Elmwood Park Zoo Prepares to Reveal New Industry-leading Veterinary Health Center and Welcome Center

The construction of Elmwood Park Zoo‘s new Welcome Center and industry-leading Veterinary Health Center is nearing completion and is expected to open to the public on June 27, 2024. This multi-million dollar state-of-the-art facility will allow the Zoo to provide care to current and future animal species while offering guests an unprecedented look inside the daily operations of the Zoo’s veterinary team. 

“Elmwood Park Zoo’s mission truly comes to life once you step inside our new Welcome Center,” said Al Zone, Executive Director and CEO, Elmwood Park Zoo. “Every element of our new facility touches on three themes – Care, Conservation, and Connection – and those themes are further highlighted through interactive displays and reactive lighting. The new exhibits and access to portions of the Health Center aim to educate guests about the important role zoos play in protecting and caring for wildlife.”

The 39,000 square foot facility features an outdoor entrance plaza with a water fountain, ticket windows, animal exhibits, interactive kiosks, viewing bays that look into the Health Center’s Treatment Room and Animal Commissary, a coffee shop, and a 4,000 square foot gift shop. 

The new visitor experience begins with elements that evoke the Zoo’s natural surroundings, like the pathways that mimic the flow of Stony Creek. Signs and displays speak to the 100-year history of the Zoo and the progress that has been made to make it one of the premier cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.  A custom built “tree house” will serve as a unique meeting spot, rest area, and scenic vantage point for the entire Welcome Center. A new water fountain at the center of the plaza features sculptures of white-tailed deer and a stalking jaguar, created by artist Zenos Frudakis, that represent the Zoo’s founding, its present and its future.  

Once inside the new Welcome Center, guests will encounter a series of digital touch screens that are featured throughout the space. They host quizzes and games that will not only entertain guests, but will also provide them with a better understanding of how the Zoo cares for its animals, and how it is part of a larger network that exists to support conservation efforts around the globe. The Welcome Center will also be home to several animal exhibits featuring native Pennsylvania turtles, golden lion tamarins, and black-footed ferrets.

Additionally, guests will enjoy a brand new coffee shop, the Buck Cafe, which features various coffees, teas, sandwiches, and snacks. They will also have access to large family bathrooms, a family quiet room, a nursing station, and a newly expanded gift shop.

The highlight of the experience is a peek inside the Frank & Paige Engro Veterinary Health Center, named in honor of the Engros, whose $30 million donation in 2022 jump-started the development of the entire facility. The Health Center features a surgical suite, diagnostic lab, indoor/outdoor recovery wards, and an in-house pharmacy, all outfitted with the latest tools and cutting edge equipment. 

Viewing windows will allow guests to watch Veterinary staff conduct exams and procedures, providing insight into the dedicated care the Zoo’s animals receive each day. Guests can periodically take part in the proceedings by texting questions to the team who may answer them as the procedures take place. A viewing window into the Animal Commissary will also give guests the unique opportunity to watch diets being prepared for all of the animals at the Zoo.

The Zoo’s yearly members will be given exclusive early access to the Welcome Center and Veterinary Health Center  beginning on Monday, June 24 through Wednesday, June 26, from 12:00 PM to 7:30 PM each day.  In addition to being the first guests to enjoy the new facility, members will be able to register for staff-guided tours that provide behind-the-scenes access and unprecedented looks at the facility’s various features. The rest of the Zoo will also be open exclusively for members on each day until 5:00 PM, after which only the Welcome Center/Health Center will be open from 5:00 PM to 7:30 PM.

The Zoo will open again to the general public on Thursday, June 27 at 10:00 AM. This will also be the first time that the new facility opens to the public. 

For more information on the new Welcome Center and Veterinary Health Center, visit https://www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/welcome-center/.

Elmwood Park Zoo Receives Recertification as a Certified Autism Center™, Demonstrates Ongoing Commitment to Enhancing Accessibility

Elmwood Park Zoo proudly announces its successful recertification as a Certified Autism Center™(CAC) by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). Following its initial certification in 2018, Elmwood Park Zoo continues to lead as the first zoo to earn this prestigious accolade, reaffirming its commitment to inclusivity and providing an enriching experience for all guests, including autistic and sensory-sensitive individuals and their families.

“We are thrilled to maintain our status as a Certified Autism Center™, highlighting our ongoing dedication to enhancing accessibility for every visitor,” says Eric Donovan, chief operating officer of Elmwood Park Zoo. “This recertification is a testament to our company culture’s transformation, emphasizing our unwavering commitment to delivering exceptional experiences for all guests. It has enabled us to implement various measures to accommodate the diverse needs of our visitors, fostering an environment of inclusivity and compassion.”

Since its initial designation as a CAC in 2018, Elmwood Park Zoo has continually expanded its amenities to better serve its guests. Some of the offerings now include:

  • Quiet Space: A gated, fenced-in enclosure designated as a quiet space, which provides guests with a peaceful retreat. Inside, visitors can find seats and custom sensory activity boards similar to fidget spinners.
  • Sensory Backpacks: Available for free by request at the admissions counter, these backpacks include noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, a stress ball, thinking putty and copies of EPZ’s Social Story, sensory map and sensory guides.
  • Sensory Guides: Signage placed outside indoor exhibit spaces serves as sensory guides, allowing guests with sensitivities to know what to expect before entering.
  • Accessibility Map: An accessibility map is available on the zoo’s website, along with a comprehensive list of all available amenities.
  • Quiet Events: Elmwood Park Zoo regularly hosts “quiet” events, including morning or evening admission before or after the zoo is open to the general public. Similar quiet versions of Halloween and holiday lights events are also offered.

The positive impact of these initiatives has been met with heartfelt appreciation from visitors, particularly initiatives such as the weekly “quiet mornings,” which offer a calm and enjoyable atmosphere for a limited number of guests before general opening hours.

“Elmwood Park Zoo’s dedication to maintaining its Certified Autism Center™ status sets a commendable example for other institutions,” shares Myron Pincomb, IBCCES board chairman. “The zoo’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility is truly commendable, and we are proud to continue our partnership with them in promoting a welcoming environment for all.”

IBCCES has been the leader in cognitive disorder training and certification for healthcare, education, and corporate professionals around the globe for more than 20 years. IBCCES is the only global credentialing board providing travel and entertainment organizations with training and certification from subject-matter experts and autistic self-advocates, and other resources, as well as long-term support that helps them understand how to better accommodate and assist autistic or sensory-sensitive visitors and their families.

For more information about Elmwood Park Zoo’s accessibility offerings, please visit www.elmwoodparkzoo.org. Additionally, IBCCES has developed AutismTravel.com, a free online resource connecting families to certified destinations like Elmwood Park Zoo, ensuring a supportive environment for individuals with autism and sensory sensitivities.

About Elmwood Park Zoo

Elmwood Park Zoo was established in 1924 when a local farmer transferred 16 acres and a small menagerie to the Borough of Norristown. Today, the zoo is owned and operated by the Norristown Zoological Society, a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster an appreciation for wildlife and the environment that will inspire active participation in conservation. Under the Society’s careful management, Elmwood Park Zoo has attained the elite status as one of only 230 institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  The Zoo’s accreditation was renewed in September, 2022


Committed to providing The Global Standard for Training and Certification in The Field of Cognitive Disorders – IBCCES provides a series of certifications that empower professionals to be leaders in their field and improve the outcomes for the individuals they serve. These programs are recognized around the world as the leading benchmark for training and certification in the areas of autism and other cognitive disorders.

FOUR Program Sponsored By Peco

Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to announce the launch of its FOUR Program. Sponsored by PECO, the FOUR Program offers $4 admission for the Zoo and Centre Theater’s Charles L. Blockson Exhibition to community residents receiving government assistance. 

The FOUR Program offers significant savings, with guests of the Zoo saving $17.95 per adult ticket and $14.95 per child ticket. Guests visiting Centre Theater’s Charles L. Blockson Exhibition will save $6 per adult and $1 per child. Discounted tickets are available to all EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card holders.

“Our goal is to further expand the zoo’s inclusive initiative, making education and arts accessible to all,” said Jennifer Conti, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Director of Development. “Thanks to PECO‘s support, we can offer both attractions at a fraction of the cost for EBT card holders.” 

FOUR Program tickets must be purchased at Elmwood Park Zoo or Centre Theater. Guests must present a valid photo ID and EBT Card to receive the discounted admission.

Create Your Own Hydroponic Garden at Home

What is Hydroponic Gardening?

Hydroponic gardening is a method of growing plants without using traditional soil. Instead, it involves cultivating plants in a water-based solution that contains all the essential nutrients required for plant growth. The roots of the plants are directly exposed to this nutrient-rich water, allowing them to absorb the necessary elements for their development.

It’s easy to start at home, allowing year-round growth. Common styles include wick systems, deep water cultures, and nutrient film techniques. Create your own indoor garden effortlessly!

Things you'll need:

  • 2-liter bottle for a container

  • Knife or sharp scissors

  • Marker

  • Coconut coir

  • Perlite

  • Cotton wick or cotton t-shirt

  • Hydroponic nutrient solution

Step 1

Locate and mark the spot on the two-liter bottle where the top curve levels out and forms a straight side, drawing a line around the bottle with a permanent marker along the curve. This creates your cutting line. 

Step 2

Cut along the line with sharp scissors to remove the top of the bottle.

Step 3

Place the top, with the cap end down, into the bottle so that it nestles inside the top of the cut section.

Step 4

Place a 6-inch section of cotton wicking through the cap hole so it extends into the bottom of the bottle. You can use a piece of cotton rope or strip of T-shirt material as the wick.

Step 5

Hold the end of the wick inside the open cavity created by the top of the bottle with your finger while filling the cavity with coconut coir or a mixture of coconut coir and perlite.

Step 6

Make a small indentation in the mixture with your fingers, and place the roots of a seedling in the hole. Firm the coconut coir around the roots to secure the seedling in place.

Step 7

Fill the bottom of the bottle approximately halfway with hydroponics solution (follow instructions on solution). Most require mixing a few tablespoons of the concentrated formula with a gallon of distilled water.

Step 8

Place the top of the bottle inside the bottom so that the wick extends into the solution. Check the unit frequently, and refill the bottom with hydroponic solution when needed.

Elmwood Park Zoo And The Centre Theater Partner To Support The Arts

Elmwood Park Zoo has partnered with the Centre Theater to produce all of the cultural exhibitions and theater productions to be hosted and performed at the historic building, located in the heart of Norristown. 

The partnership was forged when the zoo played an integral role in opening the Charles L. Blockson Exhibition at the theater in 2022, and it is set to continue through 2023 and beyond, with stage musicals that include Tuck Everlasting, which debuts Friday, March 3.

“We believe this collaboration between the zoo and the theater is a crucial piece in the revitalization of Norristown,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “Like the zoo, the Centre Theater is a destination for guests to learn and have fun. We hope that through the zoo’s support, the theater will attract more visitors and increase support of the arts in Montgomery County.” 

The Charles L. Blockson Exhibition opened at the theater in June 2022, and featured selections from Charles Blockson’s private collection of over 700,000 items and artifacts that are related to the global Black experience. The theater’s staging of Tuck Everlasting begins on March 3, with additional select dates running through March 19. Tickets are available on the theater’s website at www.thecentretheater.com.

The Greater Norristown Society for the Arts owns the Centre Theater, which has been the anchor of Norristown’s Arts Hill since 1996. Elmwood Park Zoo currently leases the theater space and runs its daily operations. The zoo has begun including the theater in various promotions and benefits it offers to its visitors, and it has plans for a shuttle service that will whisk guests from the zoo to the theater and back via a vintage trolley car. 

Ambassadors for the Philadelphia Eagles

Meet our Eagles

Noah –

At just 8 weeks old, Noah suffered an 80 foot fall and landed on his head. Noah spent the first year of his life recovering from brain and eye injuries in the Hospital for Large Animals at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Deemed unfit to be released back into the wild, Noah was placed in a rehabilitation facility where he spent several years assisting humans with educational outreach programs. Elmwood Park Zoo acquired Noah in December 2008. As one of the Zoo’s Educational Ambassadors, he helps teach people of all ages about wildlife conservation. In addition to regular zoo and program appearances, Noah has attended games, training camp, and other events as an official live mascot for the Philadelphia Eagles football team since 2013. 

Reggie –

Reggie came to us from the Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI – hence his name) in Wisconsin. He was brought into the rehab when he was an immature male in August of 2011. He was believed to have been injured due to a collision with a truck. He sustained several fractures to his left wing, which resulted in amputation of the wing tip, making him unable to fly and non-releasable to the wild. Reggie was transferred to the Elmwood Park Zoo in 2011 where he initially joined the eagle flock on exhibit in Eagle Canyon. The keepers noticed that because of his very docile and nice-guy demeanor he was often overshadowed by other dominant eagles. We felt he might be a great addition to the Eagle Ambassador team so we transferred him to the education department in August of 2018, and Reggie made his debut as an official live mascot for the Philadelphia Eagles in the fall of 2019.


Noah and Reggie are in possession of Elmwood Park Zoo by the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Our Eagle Team

Laura Soder, Eagle Team Lead; she handles both Noah and Reggie for high profile events, oversees all eagle training, and coordinates all live mascot appearances and general educational programming involving the birds. She is Reggie’s primary trainer, and has been working with him since his first start as an ambassador. She has been working with birds of prey at various institutions for 13 years, and with Elmwood Park Zoo since 2017. Her favorite part about this job is watching the birds come out and be comfortable, confident, and really shine for the crowds. It’s a testament to a lot of hard work, as working with a generally solitary animal can be very challenging. So when you build that mutual trust and ability to communicate effectively with the bird as a trainer, even in highly distracting situations, it’s really amazing. When the bird is comfortable and confident, it allows visitors to get the best experience and hopefully walk away with a desire to help protect this species.

Rebecca Oulton, Eagle Trainer; she is Noah’s primary trainer, and his main handler for high profile events. She is the secondary trainer for Reggie, and has also been working with him since the very beginning. She has been working with birds of prey at Elmwood Park Zoo for 7 years. Her favorite part of the job is watching Noah and Reggie grow into their role as ambassadors and mascots, and seeing the looks of awe on guests’ faces when they meet them up close. Whether it’s because they appreciate how the bald eagle has struggled as a species in the wild not so long ago, or because they’ve never had an opportunity for a close encounter, it’s always rewarding. And she loves how it prompts people to share all the stories of seeing eagles in the wild.

Elisa Tyler, Eagle Trainer; she has been working with Reggie as a handler and assistant trainer for the past two years, building up a relationship and the experience needed to handle him at high profile events in the near future. She has been working with birds of prey at Elmwood Park Zoo for 9 years. Her favorite part of the job is learning all of the intricacies of the birds and their behavior. She enjoys being able to share Noah and Reggie’s stories, and the conservation success story of bald eagles in general, with visitors. Helping people understand how they came under our care and how the public can continue to help protect the species makes all the hard work that goes into these appearances worth it.

Eagle Training

When working with our ambassador eagles, we use training methods that focus on positive reinforcement and providing the animals as much safe choice and control in their daily routine as possible. Birds of prey are predators, and spend much of their time in the wild hunting for food. Our eagles do not have this opportunity due to their injuries, so instead we provide them enrichment and a positive training experience by using their daily diet as rewards. This is similar to how you might give your dog a bone for sitting on cue, except eagles are more into fish and rats than dog treats!

This training allows our eagles to participate voluntarily not only in their role as ambassadors and mascots, but also in their care. Both Noah and Reggie are trained to do a variety of behaviors as part of their daily routine; they step up onto a glove worn by the trainers so that they can be moved to different locations; they step onto a scale so that we can weigh them to ensure they are healthy and motivated; they step into a crate for transport or while we perform cleaning in their enclosure.

As a mascot, these birds encounter much more intense situations than our average ambassador animal; they are often surrounded by thousands of fans, with lots of distractions and noise. While we cannot predict everything, we do our very best to make sure Noah and Reggie are comfortable in this highly variable, high stakes environment. One way we do this is practice! Both birds routinely come out on zoo grounds to meet with visitors and make sure they are used to hearing and seeing the different aspects of large groups of people. The Philadelphia Eagles organization also allows us to visit Lincoln Financial Field outside of game day to make sure our birds get as much exposure to the plaza and field as possible. The more familiar they are with the location and the general expected distractions (such as cheering, strange outfits, cameras, running children) the more resilient they are when new and unexpected situations arise. Because eagles have such incredible eyesight and very fast reflexes, training them can be a challenge; sometimes they see things that we don’t know exist! But we spend a lot of time working with each bird, getting to know their personality, what they like (or dislike), and what their body language looks like when they are calm, comfortable, nervous or excited. The slightest shift in feather placement on their head or body can actually say a lot.

When we are out at events, the trainer handling the bird has one job: to focus on the bird and watch their body language. They are ready with lots of delicious snacks to offer the bird as needed, whether as a distraction from something that may be new or intimidating, or as a reward when the bird is calm and relaxed and really doing a great job! The rest of the staff at the event help to interpret to guests or act as crowd control so that the trainer can be completely attuned to the bird, its comfort and its safety. We build up a positive relationship, with lots of trust, and continuously work to make sure we are communicating as best we can with them as their trainers; it is our job to make sure they are safe and comfortable so that they are set up for success in their job. As mascots, and ambassadors for a species that was not long ago almost extinct, that job is so important, and we are incredibly honored to be able to work alongside them!

Written by:
Laura Soder (Interim Director of Education / Manager of Ambassador Animal Engagementat Elmwood Park Zoo

Elisa Tyler (Interim Director of Education / Manager of Education Engagementat Elmwood Park Zoo

Rebecca Oulton (Educatorat Elmwood Park Zoo

Elmwood Park Zoo Announces Construction Start for Animal Hospital

Elmwood Park Zoo announced today that construction of its new Animal Hospital and Welcome Center is scheduled to begin the first week of January 2023. The state-of-the art building, made possible by a $30 million gift from an anonymous local donor, will replace the zoo’s existing main entrance, administrative offices, and Nature Shop. 

The zoo will close to the public through January and February 2023 so that it can safely demolish the existing building and entrance. It will create a temporary entrance away from the construction zone that will be available when the zoo reopens to guests in March 2023. Details on the temporary entrance will be made available at a future date. 

Guests who possess an active yearly membership through February 2023, or purchase a yearly membership before March 2023, will automatically receive two extra months of benefits as a result of the closure. Elmwood Park Zoo’s yearly members regularly receive free zoo admission and exclusive discounts for an entire year.

Construction on the hospital and welcome center is expected to last just under two years. The zoo aims to complete the project in 2024 to coincide with its 100th anniversary. 

Learn More

Elmwood Park Zoo Receives $30 Million Gift for Animal Hospital

Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to announce that a donor has given a landmark $30 million gift to fund the construction of a new animal hospital and welcome center. The gift both honors the zoo’s upcoming 100th anniversary in 2024, and supports the zoo’s ambitious $150 million master plan, which features a series of projects that will renovate and expand the zoo over several years.

At over 17,000 square feet, Elmwood Park Zoo’s animal hospital will be one of the largest and most advanced exotic animal care facilities in the nation. Its multiple exam rooms, treatment centers, quarantine facilities, recovery wards, and surgical suites will be outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment. Giant glass viewing bays will provide guests with an insider’s look at the hospital’s daily activities. Everything from select medical procedures to diet preparations will be on public display, further emphasizing the high level of care the zoo’s animals receive.In addition to the hospital, the building will host the zoo’s welcome center, featuring ticket windows, educational displays, and a gift shop. Guest amenities that focus on accessibility and inclusivity will provide visitors with a comfortable and inviting environment. An additional floor inside the building will add over a dozen administrative offices and meeting spaces.

The anonymous donor, a local entrepreneur with strong ties to Norristown, intended his contribution to be the leading gift toward the zoo’s master plan, saying “It was made as an effort for other Montgomery County philanthropists to follow [my] lead and get involved.”

“It’s beyond humbling to receive such a transformative and generous gift,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “This donation comes at a crucial moment for the zoo. On the verge of our 100th anniversary, this gift allows us to extend our exceptional veterinary care to an increasing number of species, and it provides us with a means to build an entrance that can accommodate the large number of guests who visit us each year. It’s the most important piece of a plan from which all of our other plans will be made possible.”

Preliminary drawings for the animal hospital and welcome center can be seen on the zoo’s website at www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/master-plan. The web page lists additional goals of the zoo’s master plan, including new animal exhibits and expansion areas.

“We are truly fortunate to have the confidence of this individual, and I appreciate his forward thinking to help the zoo begin its next century as a strong and sound organization,” said Jennifer Conti, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Director of Development. “The zoo has shown immense organizational strength over the last two years, and we have overcome tremendous challenges to get us to where we are today. I am very much looking forward to the journey ahead.”


Elmwood Park Zoo was established in 1924 when a local farmer transferred 16 acres and a small menagerie to the Borough of Norristown. Today, the zoo is owned and operated by the Norristown Zoological Society, a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster an appreciation for wildlife and the environment that will inspire active participation in conservation. Under the Society’s careful management, Elmwood Park Zoo has attained elite status as one of over 230 institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  The zoo’s accreditation was renewed in September 2022.

Elmwood Park Zoo Granted AZA Accreditation

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) independent Accreditation Commission (the Commission) met virtually this week to complete its Fall 2022 cycle of reviewing accreditation applications for AZA accreditation.

The AZA accreditation process includes a detailed application and a meticulous on-site, multiple-day inspection by an independent team of expert zoological professionals. The inspecting team analyzes all aspects of the facility’s operation, including animal welfare and wellbeing; veterinary care; keeper training; safety for visitors, staff, and animals; educational programs; conservation efforts; financial stability; risk management; governance; and guest services. Detailed reports from the inspection team and the facility are then thoroughly evaluated by the Commission. Finally, the Accreditation Commission interviews top officials at a formal hearing, after which accreditation is fully granted, provisionally granted for one year, or denied.

Of the accreditation applications reviewed during the virtual hearings, all six were previously accredited facilities.

The approved applicants for AZA accreditation during the virtual hearings include:

Each facility underwent a thorough review to make sure it has and will continue to meet ever-rising standards, which emphasize animal wellbeing, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. AZA requires facilities to complete this rigorous accreditation process every five years as a condition of Association membership.

“As a testament to the value of AZA accreditation, our Commission could not get through the sheer number of applications during three days of hearings at our recent Annual Conference in Baltimore. So, we had to extend the process virtually,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “In addition to our 238 accredited members, our Pathway Toward Membership program currently has more than two dozen facilities working toward AZA accreditation, all of whom are doing so because they recognize AZA accreditation as the pinnacle for any zoological facility. Our rigorous standards are backed by science, constantly evolving, and rooted in animal wellbeing, which assures the public the animals at AZA-accredited facilities are receiving the best care possible.”

There are currently 238 AZA-accredited facilities and 15 AZA-certified related facility members throughout the U.S. and 12 other countries. For a complete list of accredited AZA facilities, please visit https://www.aza.org/current-accreditation-list.

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.

PAWS Membership Returns, Sponsored By PECO

Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to announce the return of its Yearly Membership that serves individuals receiving government assistance.

Sponsored by PECO, Elmwood Park Zoo’s PAWS Membership (Providing Access to Wildlife and Science) provides free admission to guests – two named adults and up to six children – for one year. 

Individuals who receive state financial and/or medical assistance through the SNAP and ACCESS programs are eligible for the PAWS membership.  

A limited number of PAWS memberships will be available on a first-come, first-served basis on Monday, August 1 at 10:00 AM. Individuals must apply in person at the zoo. More information is available on the zoo’s website at www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/paws-membership.

Free Contact Otter Training

What Does free contact Mean?

Being “free contact” with our otters means that we, as keepers, share a space with them without the use of a barrier. In the past, we have focused on training through fencing due to the natural strong biting capabilities of river otters. After months of training, I have been able to build a positive relationship with our two otters, Rocky and Piper. There is a level of trust and comfortability that can be gained between an animal and their trainer. Being able to share space with the otters allows for a vast number of training and health benefits. For example, we can more easily ask them to enter a crate in cases of emergency moves, or for routine medical procedures.

Meet our otters


Piper, our four-year-old female otter, joined EPZ in June 2020. Piper is spunky and full of energy, so she requires intricate enrichment and plenty of physical activity. Rocky, our seventeen-year-old male otter, is a phenomenal laid back roommate who enjoys lounging around and occasional naps. Their ages can limit play time between them,  as Piper’s energetic nature causes her to spend more time swimming and running around their exhibit space.

Free Contact training

During training sessions with Piper, she is asked to travel to different parts of the exhibit to present behaviors, such as going down the slide, traveling through weave poles, stationing on a stump, running through tubes, painting on canvas’, and entering her crate.  A majority of our animals’ trained behaviors focus on specific medical procedures, such as receiving an injection, blood draw training, and targeting. Our free contact training has the goal of keeping our animals mentally and physically stimulated, which is an important part of their health and wellbeing. The type of training that is performed at Elmwood Park Zoo is called “Operant Conditioning”. Our animals learn through positive reinforcement. This means that they are rewarded by receiving their favorite foods or parts of their diet when they carry out a behavior that we have asked for.

Rocky and Piper always have the choice to participate in their training or to walk away from a session. However, they appear to enjoy the stimulation and rewards that they receive for participating. We take precautions during the training sessions, such as multiple keepers being present, and I carry a tool with me in case I need to block an otter from approaching me further. We have written procedures for the training sessions to ensure that both the trainer and otter remain in a safe environment. Both otters have surprised us with their intelligence and ability to learn quickly. We plan to add to the number of behaviors that they can learn in the hopes to continually improve their welfare. 

Written by Alexandria Eging, Zookeeper (Area Lead – Habitat HQ; Aviary/Pond) at Elmwood Park Zoo

Photos by Janet Miner

“The Charles L. Blockson Exhibition” to Debut at Norristown’s Centre Theater

Elmwood Park Zoo is proud to announce its role in the creation of a new exhibition featuring one of the world’s largest collections of African American history and culture. “The Charles L. Blockson Exhibition: an African and Afro-American Collection,” will feature portions of Charles Blockson’s private collection of over 700,000 items and artifacts that are related to the global Black experience. The exhibition will make its public debut on Juneteenth weekend, in a brand new gallery space built inside the historic Centre Theater in Norristown.

Born in Norristown in 1933, Charles L. Blockson is world renowned for his expertise in Black genealogy and the Underground Railroad. His collection (featuring rare books, current periodicals, letters, photographs, artifacts and memorabilia) was amassed throughout his life-spanning career as a historian, bibliophile and author. The Charles L. Blockson Exhibition focuses on his life’s work in documenting the global Black experience through history. The exhibition at the Centre Theater is made possible by Mr. Blockson, Curator Emeritus, and The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University.

“It is a special honor to have this exhibition in Norristown because it not only represents my life but the life of people of African descent, and the agony of enslavement and the ecstasy of freedom,” said Mr. Blockson.

A sampling of items scheduled to be on display represent:

  • Manuscripts from music artist Tupac Shakur
  • Memorabilia from Mr. Blockson’s youth
  • Images of rare books available at the Blockson Collection including The Underground Railroad by William Still.
  • Photos by John W. Mosley, a self-taught Philadelphian photographer who chronicled black life in and around Philadelphia from the late 1930s to the late 1960s  
  • “Men of Color” Civil War recruitment poster; issued in 1863, this promotion that urged African American men to enlist in the Union army was written by Frederick Douglass

The Charles L. Blockson Exhibition is one of many unique cultural offerings under development in an effort to provide Montgomery County residents with increased access to arts and culture. Elmwood Park Zoo and The Centre Theater are leading this movement, along with community liaisons such as the Norristown Borough Council and Norristown School District, as well as strategic partners such as the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. 

“I am overwhelmed by Mr. Blockson’s dedication to preserving so many tremendous and important pieces of history, and his willingness to share these items in Norristown is an outstanding gift to the community,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “My hope is that with this exhibition, along with the Centre Theater performances, the Zoo, and all of our other arts and culture institutions, folks from all over the region will flock to Norristown to experience all that we have to offer.

Further details on the exhibition are available at the Centre Theatre Gallery website at https://thecentretheater.com/gallery/. The Centre Theater is operated by The Greater Norristown Society for the Arts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. 
For information on supporting the Charles L. Blockson Exhibition, contact Jennifer Conti at jconti@elmwoodparkzoo.org or (610) 277-3825 x 229.

LEGO Sloth Debuts at Elmwood Park Zoo

Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to announce the debut of a new life-sized sloth sculpture, made entirely of LEGO® bricks. This one-of-a-kind piece was created by Master Model Builder Mike Nieves at LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Philadelphia in Plymouth Meeting. LEGOLAND Discovery Center Philadelphia donated the sculpture to the zoo in honor of the zoo’s new “Harmony Hideaway” exhibit, which features a two-toed linnaeus sloth named Liana. 

The LEGO “Liana” measures 19 inches long and weighs between 20 and 25 pounds. The sculpture is built around a steel bar attached to a heavy duty cable; this support allows the sculpture to hang from a tree limb much in the same way that an actual sloth spends most of its time. 

Beginning Saturday, April 23, the sculpture can be seen outside alongside the zoo’s Harmony Hideaway exhibit. Guests visiting the sculpture will be invited to enter their guesses at how many LEGO bricks were used in its creation. The entrant who guesses closest to the actual number will win a Family Membership to Elmwood Park Zoo and 4 Annual Passes to LEGOLAND Discovery Center Philadelphia. The contest is open exclusively to zoo visitors. 

About LEGOLAND® Discovery CenterAt LEGOLAND® Discovery Center, families with children aged 3 to 10 can enjoy a world of creativity, color and building fun in the ultimate indoor LEGO® playground. With features including landmarks made from nearly 1.5 million LEGO bricks in the MINILAND® attraction to fun and exciting LEGO themed rides. Then watch as your favorite LEGO characters come to life in the 4D Cinema. Get hands-on with the thousands of LEGO bricks in themed build and play areas where kids’ imaginations can run wild with the endless possibilities that LEGO play offers. Adults must be accompanied by children to enter. Visit legolanddiscoverycenter.com for more information.

About Merlin Entertainments
Merlin Entertainments is a global leader in location-based, family entertainment. As Europe’s number one
and the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin operates 138 attractions, 23 hotels and 6 holiday villages in 24 countries across 4 continents. Merlin’s purpose is to deliver memorable experiences to its millions of guests around the world, through its iconic brands and multiple attraction formats, and the commitment and passion of its employees.
See www.merlinentertainments.biz for more information and follow on Twitter @MerlinEntsNews.

About Elmwood Park ZooEstablished in 1924, Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown is home to dozens of wild and endangered species. As a nonprofit organization accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, its mission is to foster an appreciation for wildlife and the environment that will inspire active participation in conservation. The Zoo is now open 7 days a week, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, through September 5. Tickets are available online at elmwoodparkzoo.org

Genuardi Family Foundation Gifts $1 Million to Elmwood Park Zoo

Elmwood Park Zoo is excited to announce it has received a $1 million donation from the Genuardi Family Foundation. The gift is in support of the zoo’s efforts to expand its development across the Stony Creek and is one of the largest in the zoo’s 97-year history.

Elmwood Park Zoo’s future expansion relies on being able to access the more than 20 acres of land that run adjacent to the zoo’s current footprint. The Genuardi Family Foundation’s gift will fund the construction of a 100 ft long vehicle and pedestrian bridge that spans the creek. The bridge is the crucial first step in allowing the zoo to develop the land for future animal enclosures, guest amenities and more. Learn more about the zoo’s Master Plan and Centennial Campaign here.

The Genuardi Family Foundation was established in 2001 by nine cousins of the third generation of the Genuardi family of Norristown as a means of giving back to the communities that supported their supermarket business. For over two decades, the Genuardi Family Foundation has helped fund a number of Elmwood Park Zoo’s initiatives, including its extensive animal husbandry programs, as well as its education programs for low income and special needs groups. “Our Board is pleased to support Elmwood Park Zoo at a crucial moment in its expansion,” said Beth Genuardi Borrelli, President of the Genuardi Family Foundation. “Families all over our region will continue to benefit immensely from the Zoo’s commitment to improving its exhibits and facilities, ensuring wonderful memories for future generations.”

“We are deeply thankful for the Genuardi Family Foundation’s tremendous generosity,” said Al Zone,  Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “Their support will get the ball rolling on  the bridge across Stony Creek as well as our exciting plans for the future.”
“The gift from The Genuardi Family Foundation gets us one step closer to a whole new era for the zoo,” said Jennifer Conti, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Director of Development. “It opens up our ability to enhance our existing facility and create new and exciting adventures for our guests to enjoy.”

PAWS Membership sponsored by PECO

Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to announce the creation of a new Yearly Membership that will better serve individuals receiving government assistance.

Sponsored by PECO, Elmwood Park Zoo’s PAWS Membership (Providing Access to Wildlife and Science) will provide free admission to guests – two named adults and up to six children – for one year.


Individuals who receive state financial and/or medical assistance through the SNAP and ACCESS programs are eligible for the PAWS membership.


“PECO is proud to sponsor the PAWS Membership program, expanding access to the Elmwood Park Zoo for more families in Montgomery County,” said Romona Riscoe Benson, PECO’s Director of Corporate and Community Relations. “We greatly appreciate the Zoo’s creativity in forming this membership program that aligns with PECO’s work to ensure equal access to arts and culture in our region and increase opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”


“The PAWS Membership is a wonderful opportunity to expand the zoo’s inclusive initiative, and we thank PECO for funding this new program so we can share our zoo with a whole new audience,” said Jennifer Conti, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Director of Development.

A limited number of PAWS memberships are available now on a first-come, first-served basis. Individuals must apply in person at the zoo. More information is available on the zoo’s website at www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/paws-membership.


Established in 1924, Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown is home to dozens of wild and endangered species. As a nonprofit organization accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, its mission is to foster an appreciation for wildlife and the environment that will inspire active participation in conservation.

Zoo hosts First Responders, Announces Exclusive Membership

Elmwood Park Zoo hosted members of the local police, fire fighter, and ambulance departments this morning to honor the “first responders” for their service to the community.

As a further thank you, the zoo announced the creation of a yearly zoo membership intended especially for members of these departments. The zoo’s First Responder Membership will be available for free to police, fire, and EMT workers in Norristown and its surrounding townships. The membership provides free zoo admission and other exclusive perks, similar to the zoo’s yearly memberships available to purchase for individuals and families. 

In his comments, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO, Al Zone, thanked the gathered forces from Norristown, East Norriton, West Norriton and Plymouth for their service. “We truly appreciate the support of our first responders, who put the safety of the residents of Montgomery County ahead of their own,” he said.      
Also in attendance were Norristown Municipal Administrator Crandall O. Jones, East Norriton Township Manager Robert Hart, and West Norriton Township Manager Jason M. Bobst; each took a moment to heap further praise on the men and women serving their communities. 

EPZ goes “Dog Friendly,” welcoming pet dog admission

Elmwood Park Zoo is excited to announce its new “Dog Friendly” series of select dates and events that will allow guests to bring their pet dogs with them to the zoo. While permitting dogs in zoos is a more common practice in other countries, Elmwood Park Zoo would be the first zoo in the United States to create regularly scheduled access for non-service animal dogs and their owners.

Beginning in March, the zoo’s “Dog Days” will welcome guests and their furry friends to visit the zoo together. The zoo is also planning a series of “Yappy Hours” evening events that will feature food and drink specials for guests and their dogs to enjoy at EPZ’s Zoo Brew Beer Garden. “Dog Days” and “Yappy Hours” are presented by Metropolitan Veterinary Associates. Tickets for select dates are on sale now at the zoo’s website – www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/dog-friendly.

Plans for the zoo’s Dog Friendly events have been in the works for over a year. After months of consultation with the zoo’s animal care and veterinary teams, a series of rules and regulations were crafted to help ensure that any visit by a pet dog would be safe for it and its owner, as well as the zoo’s animal collection and staff members.

A trial visit featuring dogs owned by zoo employees proved successful. Canines of all shapes and sizes got an up close view of the zoo’s giraffes, zebras, jaguars and more. The zoo’s animals showed a bit of interest, and overall it was a harmonious meeting.

“It is very exciting for Elmwood Park Zoo to be the first zoo in the country to have a year-round dog program,” said Eric Donovan, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Director of Operations. “That being said, there are a number of requirements that must be met in order for the owners to bring their dogs inside our gates. The zoo is also limiting the number of dog guests in the park at any time (just as we do with humans) so that it’s a comfortable experience for all.”

Details on the zoo’s requirements for a visiting dog and it’s owners are available at www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/dog-friendly.

“We recognize that if you have a love of wildlife, there’s a good chance that you’re a pet owner too,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “We are excited to encourage a deeper appreciation for all animals by inviting owners to bring their dogs to visit the zoo. We also greatly appreciate Metropolitan Veterinary Associates for supporting our efforts.”

Barn Owl Banshee

Earlier this summer, our education department was excited to learn that two barn owls on exhibit at Philadelphia Zoo had successfully nested and laid eggs. This presented us with a great opportunity to work with another local AZA accredited facility and bring in a very young owlet to hand-raise as an ambassador animal! We have wanted to include a barn owl in our educational programming for some time, as the species provides valuable conservation messaging. Barn owls act as a major form of natural pest control, eating hundreds of mice, moles, voles and other small animals each year; unfortunately they face many human-related threats in the wild such as habitat loss, poisoning, and vehicle collisions. This barn owlet would act as an ambassador for its species, helping people to learn to love and hopefully protect their wild counterparts.

Hearing the owl's heart beat

So little! Banshee only weighs 85 grams

Leaving for Elmwood Park Zoo

The baby barn owl successfully hatched out on July 27, 2020 and spent the first ten days of its life with its parents before coming to Elmwood Park Zoo. When it first arrived, it was just a small, nearly featherless thing, with its eyes still closed and weighing only 85 grams― that’s less than an apple! Education staff now had to step into the role of “owl mom“, providing meals up to 5 times a day and creating a warm, safe nest space with incubators.

Why take on the responsibility of owl parenthood, you may ask? Many zoos and animal institutions are moving towards hand raising or imprinting owls when they are young so that they can get used to all of the unique situations they may encounter later in life in their job as ambassadors. Growing up around people, hearing different sounds, traveling, and spending time in new locations at a young age helps to prevent them from being fearful or stressed as an adult owl. Our ultimate goal is that our ambassador animals chose to participate in their care and presentation, and early socialization generally sets them up to be the most successful!

Leaving for Elmwood Park Zoo

Meeting new Mom

First feeding

Our staff has and continues to hand feed and cares for the owl every day; at about 7 weeks old, the little owl has already grown to be 8 times its size and body weight!  It has been introduced to car rides, music, television, new people and different indoor and outdoor spaces. It has learned to use its feet and small sharp talons to grab things― mostly paper balls, blankets, and sticks. It has also started to expand its vocabulary― it makes little clicks, chitters, shrieks and sometimes a long, scary hiss. 

These sounds, characteristic of the species, are what inspired us to name the owl Banshee. For those who may not be familiar, a banshee is a supernatural creature of Irish folklore, often described as a woman in white who was thought to fly around the countryside at night wailing or screaming as an omen to someone’s death. It is believed that this legend may have stemmed from early people hearing the cry of a barn owl and catching a glimpse of their ghost-white body flying in the night!

As Banshee continues to grow, we will start to work on training more advanced skills using positive reinforcement (tasty treat rewards) for things such as stepping up onto a glove voluntarily, taking walks and doing short programs, and then eventually learning to fly! We hope to document Banshee’s progress and share all of the milestones along the way!

Written by Laura Soder, Manager of Ambassador Animal Engagement at Elmwood Park Zoo

2 Weeks Old

3 Weeks Old

4 Weeks Old

5 Weeks Old

6 Weeks Old

7 Weeks Old

Quest for the Best to match donations to Elmwood Park Zoo

Elmwood Park Zoo is excited to announce that the charitable foundation Quest for the Best will match every private donation that the zoo receives throughout the month of May, up to $25,000. Quest for the Best will also count zoo memberships, adopt-an-animal packages, and gift cards purchased during this period toward their matching program.

Immediately after its closure in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the zoo began raising money for an Emergency Fund to support its daily animal care expenses. Without the ability to rely on admission revenue, the cost of essential items like food and medication threatened to empty the zoo’s reserves. Donations made to the Emergency Fund have directly supported these expenses.

“We are thankful to the Quest for the Best Foundation for presenting us with this matching grant that will double the donations made by the community,” said Jennifer Conti, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Director of Development. “We are very much looking forward to when our gates can open again, and each donation makes a difference until we are given permission to do so.”

“In furtherance of its mission to provide financial support to worthy causes in the Delaware Valley, Quest for the Best is pleased to support the Elmwood Park Zoo at a time when it faces enormous challenges in meeting the costs of maintaining the health, well-being, and safety of its animals,” said Taras Wochok, President of Quest for the Best.

Quest for the Best is led by legal professionals that provide business and transactional legal services to nonprofit organizations primarily located in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks Counties. They also provide counseling and advice to the appropriate individuals that are served by these organizations.

“We are eternally grateful to Quest for the Best, as well as all of the zoo’s members, patrons and neighbors that have supported us during this time,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “Quest for the Best’s matching program to support our Emergency Fund will no doubt attract new supporters, while helping to ensure that we can continue providing our animals with exceptional care.” 

Donations can be made to Elmwood Park Zoo’s Emergency Fund by visiting elmwoodparkzoo.org/emergency or by calling 610.277.3825 x 229.

Hoofstock Trimming

Watch as our giraffes participate in voluntary hoof cleaning.

Watch as Gerald gets a new shoe to help with his fracture in his right hoof.

Even while Elmwood Park Zoo is temporarily closed, our Animal Care Staff is continuing to provide excellent care to our zoo residents. On Sunday, March 15, Elmwood Park Zoo was visited by farrier Steve Foxworth from the Zoo Hoofstock Trim Program (a division of the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization). Steve provided nearly four hours of continuing education to EPZ Giraffe Trainers and Veterinary Staff on hoof care techniques and applications in zoologic species and trimmed hooves on our donkeys Pickles and Jenny, several of our goats (including Dante, Prissy and Opal), and all three of our giraffe!

Our Giraffe Trainers and Veterinary Staff followed social distance recommendations while learning about hoof care.

Steve’s visit represents the culmination of nearly 2 years of training in our giraffe for voluntary hoof care. Our incredibly dedicated Giraffe Trainers have been working diligently during this time using positive reinforcement training to acclimate our giraffe to the process of hoof trimming. Proactive voluntary hoof care will allow us to provide better healthcare and welfare to our giraffe throughout their lives.

Gerald Update:

One of the highlights of Steve’s visit was the time that he spent with Gerald giraffe. Almost 2 months ago, Gerald sustained a fracture to one of the pedal bones in his right front hoof. During this time, Gerald has received numerous medications, supplements and cold laser therapy. The Digatherm Thermal Imaging camera generously donated by Metropolitan Veterinary Associates has allowed us to monitor thermal temperatures in his right front foot and leg to evaluate the success of our treatments. After trimming Gerald’s right front hoof, Steve applied a custom designed “shoe” based on a template made from Gerald’s foot. This process took several minutes and required that Gerald stay perfectly still while the adhesive set up. As you can see in the video above, Gerald was a model patient! In many cases, giraffe have to be under general anesthesia for the application of the shoe – thanks to the EPZs excellent Giraffe Training Team, Gerald allowed the shoe to be applied while he was standing and completely awake!

Following the application of the shoe, Gerald was able to fully bear weight on his injured right front foot and now shows no lameness or discomfort. He presented his left front foot for trimming (symmetry is important to Gerald) and for voluntary radiographs so that we can better monitor the bones in his left front foot after the fracture to the right front foot. We are hoping to keep the shoe on for at least 6 weeks – if it falls off on its on before that time we will attempt to replace it using the techniques that we learned from Steve Foxworth. Gerald will continue to be on anti-inflammatories and nutritional supplements for the next several months while his fracture continues to heal. We are extremely grateful to Wedgewood Pharmacy and to SmartPak for providing donated and discounted products to help Gerald on his road to recovery during the zoo’s closure. Gerald will require frequent voluntary hoof radiographs to monitor healing as well as regular voluntary hoof trims to keep his hooves healthy. 


Elmwood Park Zoo is excited to announce its new online destination for fun and educational content, “EPZoo2U.com.” The website provides guests with links to the zoo’s various videos, live streams, games and lessons that can be enjoyed for free by both children and adults. The zoo’s intent with EPZoo2U.com is to continue to provide the community with experiences that will inspire a commitment to wildlife conservation, even while the zoo is closed to daily visitors.

The highlight of Elmwood Park Zoo’s online educational offerings is “Bubby’s Club.” Named after the zoo’s bison mascot, “Bubby’s Club” features a number of activities, such as browser-based games that task children with identifying animal sounds, and finding the creatures that use camouflage to disappear in their environment. Visitors can also watch videos, and read through the books selected by Bubby in his very own book club.

Beginning Tuesday, March 17, the zoo will also be broadcasting “Zoo School Live!” through Facebook Live. This 15 to 20 minute program will feature the zoo’s Education Team presenting a lesson along with an animal from the zoo’s Ambassador program. Viewers can post questions to be answered live during the stream. Anyone who misses the broadcast will be able to watch the post throughout the day on Facebook, or visit the archive hosted on EPZoo2U.com. “Zoo School Live!” will stream live Monday through Friday at 11 am.

“Education has always been the cornerstone of Elmwood Park Zoo – it’s our first consideration in all our endeavors” says Jennifer Conti, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Development Director.  “Our commitment to educate and engage with the community remains true even now, and we hope families can use or educational resources as so many homes become schools.”

The zoo will be working in the coming days to add content to EPZoo2U.com, such virtual tours and live streams of exhibit animals. Updates will be announced and made available on EPZoo2U.com, as well as elmwoodparkzoo.org.

Elmwood Park Zoo is one of many organizations to close during Pennsylvania State’s response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. On Friday, March 13, the zoo began a drive to support its Emergency Fund. The fund seeks to offset the zoo’s substantial financial loss caused by the loss of daily visitors. For information on how to support the Emergency Fund, visit elmwoodparkzoo.org.

Elmwood Park Zoo is Temporarily Closed

Elmwood Park Zoo is temporarily closed to the public, effective Friday, March 13. Closing schools and educational facilities is an important measure to help slow the spread of the coronavirus in our community.

To date, there is no evidence that any Elmwood Park Zoo employee, volunteer or visitor has COVID-19. Essential staff will continue working at the zoo to ensure the safety and well-being of our animals.

All of Elmwood Park Zoo’s events and programming are currently cancelled or postponed. We are keenly aware of the effects the closure may have on existing plans to visit the zoo. We ask for your patience as our staff reaches out to guests regarding canceled programming.

For the immediate future, the zoo will be following Pennsylvania Department of Health’s recommendation for closure until further notice. Our administration will communicate any updates as they become available. We appreciate your understanding as we navigate the pandemic and work to do our part to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Questions can be directed to us at zoo@elmwoodparkzoo.org.

Elmwood Park Zoo Monitors COVID-19 Outbreak

Elmwood Park Zoo is closely monitoring the global outbreak of COVID-19. We are following updates from organizations including the Montgomery County Office of Public Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to stay informed on the latest developments. The threat of contracting COVID-19 remains low at this time and therefore the Zoo will remain open. We will update our operations as the situation requires and will continue to take the necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of our guests and employees. Questions can be directed to us at zoo@elmwoodparkzoo.org.


Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to continue providing free admission to Norristown Borough residents on the first Sunday of each month in 2020. Thanks to a generous sponsorship from Children’s Dental Health, residents of Norristown Borough that present valid photo I.D. may enter the Zoo free of charge on the following dates:

March 1, 2020

April 5, 2020

May 3, 2020

June 7, 2020

July 5, 2020

August 2, 2020

September 6, 2020

October 4, 2020

November 1, 2020

December 6, 2020

“We couldn’t be prouder to partner with the Elmwood Park Zoo, which has put countless smiles on the faces of children from Norristown and surrounding communities for nearly 100 years,” said Joe Lichty, Children’s Dental Health Director of Marketing.

Adults must show photo I.D. as proof of residency. Children must be accompanied by a Borough resident. Non-residents will be charged normal admission rates. Borough residents are defined by living within the following four boundaries:

east of Forrest Avenue

south of Johnson Highway

west of Sandy Hill Road/E Fornance Street

north of the Schuylkill River

Elmwood Park Zoo’s Autism Certification

We know that visiting a new place, including a zoo, can be scary and overwhelming for families who have members with autism or sensory needs. In a park environment, guests can be vulnerable to intensified noises and become overstimulated by different sights, sounds, and smells. Here at Elmwood Park Zoo, we strive to ensure every guest has an enjoyable and memorable experience. In May 2018, Elmwood Park Zoo became the first zoo in the world to earn a certification as a Certified Autism Center. This certification was given by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). It is awarded to organizations that undergo training and a review process, in order to better serve individuals with autism or other sensory needs. With our certification, we have implemented many different procedures and policies to better cater towards each guest’s specific needs. 

The majority of our staff at the zoo has participated in special training, which focuses on how to properly accommodate individuals with autism or sensory needs, as well as their families. IBCCES requires that at least 80 percent of the organization’s staff are trained according to their standards. This certifies our trained staff is knowledgeable and confident in dealing with any scenarios that may arise. 

In addition to training, the zoo now offers many different features to better accommodate individuals with autism or other sensory needs. One major feature of the zoo is our dedicated Quiet Space. The space, which is located across from the Prairie Dog exhibit, has gate access and seating that allows individuals to come and relax if the other areas in the zoo get too noisy. Planters inside the space are filled with calming plants like rosemary, thyme, and mint. The planters are also fitted with fidget spinners to keep guests occupied. Elmwood Park Zoo also provides Quiet Mornings for guests to enjoy the zoo in a relaxing setting before it opens to the general public.

Thanks to Geiger and Crazy Aaron’s, guests also have access to complementary Sensory Packs that are filled with items for guests with special sensory needs. Included inside the Sensory Packs are items like noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys, a stress ball, thinking putty, and laminated copies of Elmwood Park Zoo’s social narrativesensory map, and sensory guide. The backpack is free for daily-use and can be requested at the admission windows.

All of these features are also outlined on the Zoo’s Accessibility and Amenities webpage. There you can find a digital copy of our accessibility map, sensory guide, and other tips for successfully navigating around the zoo. Elmwood Park Zoo understands the importance of providing a valuable, educational, and enjoyable experience for all of our guests. We hope to inspire other organizations to become a Certified Autism Center, in order to work towards a collective goal— to offer an inclusive environment for everyone.


NORRISTOWN, PA – Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to announce a new partnership with The Centre Theater in Norristown that will combine zoo visits with admission to the iconic theater’s exciting new performance series. 

Centre Theater and its resident company, Theatre Non-Conforming, will kick off its new Family Series in April with a four week run of the beloved children’s classic “Pinocchio.” It will be followed in the summer by a run of “Tarzan™” (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. & Disney, All Rights Reserved), and conclude during the holidays with Charles Dickens’ timeless “A Christmas Carol.” 

“Pinocchio” performances begin April 16 and run through May 10. All shows are recommended for ages 5 and up. For guests with sensitivities to sound and light, two autism-friendly shows will be available on April 25 and April 30. 

Each ticket to “Pinocchio” will also include free Single Day Membership admission to Elmwood Park Zoo. The Zoo’s Yearly Members will receive exclusive discounts to the performances.

In addition to the partnership with Centre Theater, the Zoo has purchased a vintage trolley that it plans to use to transport its guests to and from the theater for the performances throughout the year. 

The trolley, a reconditioned 1980 Boyertown Trolley Bus, was purchased from American Trolley Tours in Philadelphia. The 22-seat trackless vehicle will initially travel between the Zoo and Centre Theater, with the intention of adding stops at other Norristown institutions in the near future.   

“We are so excited to support the arts and the amazing work being done by Centre Theater,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “I think the performances that Theatre Non-Conforming are planning will be fantastic and inspiring to children and adults of all ages.”   

Tickets for “Pinocchio” are on sale now at theatrenon.com/family-series.

Wildfires, Firestorms, & Their Environmental Effects

Did you know wildfires, like the recent fires in Australia, can grow so massive that they create their own weather systems? A wildfire that creates its own weather system is so strong that it overpowers any other weather conditions in the area. Most wildfires are pushed along by wind. However, wildfires of great scale begin to collect smoke above them rather than pushing it to the side. Eventually, it forms a plume above the fire. As the plume cools it forms pyrocumulonimbus clouds. 

     Pyrocumulonimbus clouds, also known as firestorms, are formed when smoke, heat, and moisture combine and enter the stratosphere. Pyrocumulonimbus clouds are anvil shaped storm clouds that follow a wildfire. NASA refers to them as, “the fire-breathing dragon of clouds.”

     Firestorms have incredibly strong winds that throw embers in all directions. “When you get a decent thunderstorm, the rain comes from all directions. Now imagine the same for embers, ” says Associate Professor Sharples from the University of New South Wales. The embers, coupled with intense lightning, accelerates the spread of the fire. In New South Wales, Australia, fire officials estimated embers were being launched 18 miles in front of the fire. Firestorms are uncontrollable because they don’t follow the rules of typical wildfires. They contain so much force and energy that they have their own weather systems with extreme behavior.

     Australian experts estimated roughly 60 firestorms have happened since 2001. Eighteen of those firestorms took place in March of 2019. Firestorms drastically change the biodiversity of an area. For example, the Australian wildfires have made scientists concerned for many species like pygmy possums, Kangaroo Island dunnarts, and glossy black cockatoos. It is estimated that over 1 billion animals have perished in the Australian wildfires. In New South Wales alone, it is estimated 8,000 koalas were lost. Experts predict that koalas (among other species) are now in danger of extinction.

CREDIT: Copernicus Sentinel Data/Handout via Reuters

     For those animals that survived the wildfire, resources are scarce. Their food sources have been reduced to ashes. Important vegetation has been wiped out, and water sources are contaminated. When it finally rains after a fire, ash, soot, and dead vegetation clog streams, dams, and water supplies, which leads to a growth in algae and bacteria. On a larger scale, smoke from fires increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is estimated that the Australian wildfires alone have emitted an extra 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That is nearly the same amount the country released in all of 2019 from human sources. Additionally, soot from the fires was reported as far away as New Zealand.

CREDIT: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

     It’s crucial to research and protect the pockets of wildlife that are left over from firestorms of this scale. Although it is currently unclear how many of each species remain in the wild, scientists are engaging in conservation efforts. Also, experts are currently estimating the effects on native plants, the biodiversity of Australia, and the environment as a whole.

Learn how you can help wildlife and people who have been affected by the Australian wildfires here.


Written by Christa Fryling

The Life of a Plastic Bag

Have you ever thought about the life span of a plastic bag? It doesn’t begin when your goods are loaded into it at the supermarket. It also doesn’t end when you put it in your trashcan at home. Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags each year. Where do they all end up?

The creation of plastic bags begins in an oil plant. They are made of crude oil that is heated to remarkably high temperatures. Once the oil reaches a certain temperature, it produces ethylene gas. Ethylene gas is converted to polyethylene which is then forced through teeny, tiny holes to create fine string. Producers then form the string into plastic bags and stamp it with a logo. Once the bags are loaded onto trucks and ready to ship, they are off to your local stores.

The next step in the cycle for a plastic bag is to be used by the consumer. Most consumers use plastic bags to carry purchased goods home. After the plastic bags are unloaded, they get thrown away. Did you know that the average length of time a person uses a plastic bag for is 12 minutes? Think about how long it takes you to get those bags home from the grocery store, unpacked, and in the trash. However, plastic bags do not disappear once they hit your trashcan.

Once plastic bags make it through your municipality’s trash system, they wind up in a landfill, or the ocean. It is estimated to take roughly 1,000 years for one plastic bag to disintegrate. As they decay, the polyethylene strings that the plastic bag began as release harmful toxins. This is damaging to the environment and to animals. The toxic chemicals that are released contaminate soil and water. Each year more than a million sea birds, and 100,000 land and sea animals are killed because of plastic bags.

You may be asking yourself, “Can’t I just recycle these?”. Most recycling facilities don’t 

have the capacity to recycle plastic bags because they get tangled around the equipment. Additionally, it takes 85 times more energy to recycle a plastic bag than it does to create one! Reach out to your local recycling company to find out if they can take plastic bags. If not, there are places that will take your plastic bags. You can find them by going to Plastic Film Recycling and typing in your zip code. Remember, in order to properly recycle a plastic bag it must be free of any crumbs, receipts, stickers, and/or other contaminates. 

It can be alarming to learn that one plastic bag can last over 1,000 years, rather than 12 minutes. You can make a difference just by opting for reusable bags when you get to the checkout at your grocery store. Oftentimes, stores like Target and ShopRite sell them for just one dollar. If reusable bags aren’t your thing, make an effort to drop off your plastic bags at one of the drop off facilities given on Plastic Film Recycling.

Written by Christa Fryling

Wild Lights Returns to Elmwood Park Zoo

Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to announce the scheduled return of its popular holiday lights event, Wild Lights. First debuting in 2018, Wild Lights transforms the zoo into a bright winter wonderland, with over a million lights adorning the trees, exhibits and buildings throughout its 16 acres. Tickets are on sale now at epzwildlights.com.

In addition to all-new light installations and a few returning favorites from last year, each night of Wild Lights will feature additional entertainment and attractions, such as unique animal greetings, performances, character appearances, holiday music, photos with Santa, carousel rides and more.

The evening events are scheduled for 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm on select dates, beginning November 22, and running through January 5. Prices range from $14 for adults to $9 for children. Yearly zoo members can purchase Wild Lights tickets for $12 for adults and $7 for children. Children ages 0 to 2 years old are free. 

Wild Lights is generously sponsored by Taphouse 23. Located in Bridgeport, PA, Taphouse 23 serves gourmet food and the finest locally-sourced craft brews. Additional support for Wild Lights is provided by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 98, the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, and 1SEO.com. 

Eco-Friendly Halloween

Most people think that the scariest things about Halloween are the ghouls, goblins, zombies, vampires, and giant spiders that come out of hiding. What’s our biggest fear during this eerie holiday? An eco-UN-friendly Halloween! Sometimes decorations and celebratory choices can unknowingly be harmful to the planet and our animal friends. Below are some tips on how to celebrate Halloween in the most ecofriendly way!

Ecofriendly Halloween tips

(here's what to do)

Compostable items

Decorations like pumpkins and gourds are perfect for Halloween. They transition into November well — hello Thanksgiving, we see you! Once you’re done using them, they can be composted. Bonus points, pumpkin seeds can easily be roasted in the oven for a delicious snack.

Paper decorations 

One way to get the kids excited for Halloween is by giving them some of the responsibility of decorating! Paper decorations are generally easier on the wallet, allow for some creative exploration, and are recyclable! You can come see our black paper bats at our own Halloween event, Boo at the Zoo! We also love these cereal box tombstones.

Recyclable candy packaging 

You may not think that your choice of candy could be environmentally friendly, but it can be! Next time you’re in the candy aisle pay attention to how much plastic is used for your Halloween candy choices.  Lots of candies are individually wrapped with plastic. Other candies are individually wrapped with material like cardboard that can decompose easier than plastic. Some earth friendlier options are Nerds, Dots, Junior Mints, and Milk Duds.

LED and solar powered lights

Lights are incredibly important when we are all tiptoeing around in the dark. Opt for LED and/or solar power when purchasing flashlights and decorative lights. They even come in a variety of colors and designs! These options are energy efficient, have a longer lifespan, and can save you money on your electric bill.


Most Halloween costumes are usually worn once. We don’t want to dress up as the same thing we were last year either, but someone else could want the costume. Host a costume swap party to help cut down on the wastefulness of a one-night outfit. You can even put out some craft supplies & show off your DIY skills. Perhaps last year’s Cinderella costume could transform into this year’s witch costume.



Fake spider webs & other decorations made with entangling fibers

If you like to use these as decorations, keep them inside your home. Wild animals can get stuck in them and as they try to free themselves they become more tangled. It is like a human size spider web that catches birds & bats, rather than bugs.

Decorations with loops or closed circles

Animals are curious and might get their heads stuck!

Decorations with tiny, dangling, edible-looking parts

Birds, squirrels, and other creatures spend a large portion of their day scavenging for food. We don’t want wildlife confusing Halloween decorations with a yummy snack.

Hanging string lights or other rope-like decorations near paths where deer may cross

Deer antlers are larger than you might think! They can get tangled in the string lights and ropes.

Leaving candy outside & and its wrapper

For houses that leave a bowl of candy out for Trick-or-Treaters, be cautious of how long candy is left out. You may have more than people visiting your porch. Unattended candy can be a hazard to hungry critters.

Animal crossing

We know drivers are already on extra alert for children on Halloween night, but don’t forget about those animals that may be spooked out of hiding due to all of the unusual nighttime activity.

Plastic trick-or-treat containers

Here’s an opportunity to reduce, reuse, recycle, and perhaps even get a little crafty! Decorate a pillowcase or tote bag. Perhaps you can use that old basket that collects unread magazines in the bathroom. You can even dig out an old oversized purse! Many items that you already own will hold candy. Save money and the planet by refraining from plastic usage.

Written by Christa Fryling

Bats Aren’t Actually Spooky

When you think of Halloween you may think all things spooky. Your spooky list may contain things like ghosts, witches, vampires, and even bats, but bats aren’t really scary at all! They are actually a great asset to our ecosystem. Did you know that they are more closely related to primates than they are rodents?

Surprisingly, not all bats live in creepy caves like you may imagine. They often live in trees, under bridges, and in abandoned buildings. It is likely that some of them are even living right in your backyard! Unfortunately, habitat loss is a major threat to bats. If you feel inclined to provide bats with some safe places to live consider making bat boxes. Bat boxes provide homes for bats in areas that may lack natural habitat. They are designed to mimic tight, dark spaces which is what bats look for in a home.

It is important to replenish bat’s habitat because they provide us with a number of benefits. According to Bat Conservation International, one little brown bat can eat 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in one hour! Bats tend to eat their weight in bugs in just one night. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, bats provide about $3.7 billion to $53 billion in pest-control every year. They are also great flower pollinators and fruit-eating bats aid in seed dispersal. Even those blood sucking vampire bats are beneficial creatures. The enzyme they produce to prevent blood clotting is being studied by scientists with the hopes of it being used in an anticoagulant medication. The name of this potential drug? Draculin, of course!

Bats are so important to our ecosystem that they have been deemed a keystone species. Keystone species are animals that other species in an ecosystem depend on to live.

Bat Boxes

Drastic changes would occur if bats were removed from our ecosystem. For example, a lack of seed dispersal from bats would cause a decrease in fruit-bearing trees. Those trees would likely be a critical food source to other species. Keystone species are the first step in the domino effect of an ecosystem.

Now that you’ve learned how wonderful bats are consider coming to visit ours! Our African straw-colored fruit bats would love to see you this October in the Wildlife Lodge.


Written by Christa Fryling

How You Can Help Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies are perhaps the most recognizable butterfly in the nation. They are indicators of a healthy environment and a healthy ecosystem. Each year they prove their remarkable resilience with a migration of 2,500 miles. However, their numbers are dwindling. Habitat loss, fragmentation, and the increase use of pesticides threaten Monarch butterflies. There may be hope with your help! Below are steps you can take to help the species thrive once again.

Plant milkweed 

Milkweed plants provide Monarch caterpillars with the vital nutrients they need to go through metamorphosis. In fact, Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed. Yet this crucial plant is disappearing because it is considered a weed. You can help by planting milkweed that is native to your area. If you find you have a green thumb and really enjoy gardening, feel free to add in other native plants. Native plant gardens are critical in sustaining a balanced ecosystem. They tend to be heartier, require less maintenance, and are a valuable source of energy for native insects and birds. If you don’t have enough space for a garden, put out a couple pots with milkweed in them.

Help scientists track Monarchs

Another way you can support Monarch butterflies is by helping scientists track them.

Photo by J. Miner

Tracking Monarchs allows researchers to study their migration patterns, timing, and habitat use. You can help track Monarchs right here at the zoo! On Saturday, September 28 from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm you can join educators for an important citizen science program called Monarch Watch. Tag butterflies and get a firsthand look at their different life stages. The tags and tagging process do not harm butterflies and the information recorded from them is incredibly valuable in helping their conservation. 

Help create rights-of-way

It is important to create rights-of-way for Monarch butterflies. Rights-of-way are channels that connect habitats. They include roadsides, distribution lines, railroad corridors, etc. Rights-of-way are like the roads we use to connect us to cities and towns, without them we would have a lot of trouble getting around. You and your community can plant milkweed, and other native flowering plants, along these passages to encourage the migration of Monarchs. Monarchs often do not have enough food along rights-of-way to make it through their entire migration. Cultivating healthy rights-of-way will help make sure no butterflies go hungry during their infamous trek. You can also reach out to your local municipalities to voice your concerns over a lack of healthy rights-of-way. Together, communities can help change the landscape for Monarch butterflies.


Written by Christa Fryling

Leave the Leaves?

Fall is just around the corner. Get out your scarves, your pumpkin spice lattes, and your Halloween decorations! Dust off that rake and get ready to jump in a pile of leaves to hear that oh so satisfying CRUNCHHHH. Wait, what are we really supposed to do with all those leaves anyway?

     Fallen leaves can actually pose an environmental threat if they are not dealt with properly. Leaving a blanket of leaves on your lawn will not only make your grass look unhealthy come spring, but it might kill it. Your grass needs sunlight even in the fall and winter. In fact, grass stores energy from the sun in its roots to use throughout winter. Leaving leaves on your lawn prevents the grass from getting that much needed energy.
     Did you know that decaying leaves can also harbor disease? The diseases are host specific, meaning the disease only targets one species. For instance, if unattended fallen leaves harbor a disease that affects pine trees, deciduous trees may not be affected. However, the pine trees could become ill. By raking your leaves in the fall you can minimize the amount of disease you may encounter in the spring and summer.

     In addition, leaves that are swept into the street often find their way into waterways. Too many leaves in waterways causes an increase in nitrogen and phosphorus, which are chemicals that are released upon decomposition. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous can cause algae growth and depletes the water of oxygen. This can negatively impact fish and other aquatic life.  

     Now you’re probably wondering what you should do with all those pesky leaves that are so important to rake. Besides making a leaf pile and jumping in it (obviously), it is crucial to dispose of them properly. Some townships will collect leaves, so reach out to your local municipality to find out if they will pick up yours. We recommend using compostable bags to contain the leaves. The best way to handle raked leaves is to compost them in a home compost pile. If you don’t have a home compost pile, reach out to neighbors who might. For all of our gardening aficionados, if you shred your leaves with your mulching lawn mower the shredded leaves can be used as mulch around perennials over the winter.


Written by Christa Fryling


Elmwood Park Zoo has received a
generous grant from the TD Charitable Foundation that will directly support the
creation and operation of its new Connection Corner. Connection Corner is a
dedicated space in the zoo that will feature daily presentations highlighting
individual members of the animal ambassador collection.

Before the creation of the Connection
Corner, the animal ambassadors would typically only be seen outside of the zoo,
taking part in Zoo-On-Wheels programs that visit schools and public events. The
Connection Corner not only provides these animals with a new dedicated space to
appear, but it also provides the zoo’s education staff with space to exercise
the animals while interacting with guests.

TD Charitable Foundation’s $35,000
grant provides for the Connection Corner’s daily operation, as well as other
educational programs that the zoo uses to support its mission of promoting
wildlife and environmental conservation.    

The Connection Corner is open daily,
weather permitting, and is located across from the zoo’s playground. Appearance
times vary throughout the day; for more information, guests are encouraged to
check the zoo’s website at elmwoodparkzoo.org, or download the Elmwood Park Zoo
mobile app, available for iOS and Android devices.

About TD Charitable Foundation

The TD Charitable Foundation is
the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®, one of
the 10 largest commercial banking organizations in the United States. Since its
inception in 2002, the Foundation has distributed over $222 million through
nearly 21,000 grants through donations to local nonprofits from Maine to
Florida. More information on the TD Charitable Foundation, including the online
grant application, is available at

About Elmwood Park Zoo

Established in 1924, Elmwood Park
Zoo in Norristown is home to dozens of wild and endangered species. As a nonprofit
organization accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, its mission
is to foster an appreciation for wildlife and the environment that will inspire
active participation in conservation.


Elmwood Park Zoo is excited to announce it has received a $2 million donation from J. P. Mascaro & Sons Foundations for the design and construction of a brand new Amur tiger exhibit. It will be the first time in the zoo’s 95-year history that tigers will be a part of its collection. The exhibit is slated to open in 2022.

Amur (also known as Siberian) tigers are the largest cats in the world. It is a highly threatened species, but wild populations can still be found throughout the forests of eastern Russia, as well as some areas in China and possibly North Korea. The tigers will be joining the zoo’s collection of “big” cats on exhibit, which currently includes jaguars and cougars.

“J. P. Mascaro & Sons Foundations has provided a tremendous amount of support to the community for many, many years. It’s truly inspiring,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo Executive Director and CEO. “They’ve also funded several of the zoo’s programs and services, which has benefited thousands of our guests and the people we meet in our community outreach. J. P. Mascaro & Sons Foundations has helped the zoo to grow and succeed, and their gift of a new tiger exhibit promises to take us to a whole new level.”

The J. P. Mascaro & Sons Foundations donation is being made in memory of Francesco A. Mascaro and Rosemarie Mascaro Venditti, both of whom are siblings of Mascaro company owners, Pat, Joseph, Michael and Louis Mascaro.

“The Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown is a quality operation that is enjoyed by local area residents. Our family has its roots in the Norristown area, and we are happy to be able to make the zoo’s new tiger exhibit a reality,” said Joseph P. Mascaro, Jr., the oldest of the Mascaro brothers. “My brother Frank always had a soft spot in his heart for the zoo, and no one loved animals more than my sister, Rosie. Our company is pleased to make this tiger exhibit donation to the zoo in their memory.”

Mascaro company President, Pat Mascaro, said, “Donations like this to the zoo in memory of my brother Frank and my sister, Rosie, and donations that our company is able to make to other deserving community programs, groups and organizations, are only possible because of the thousands of customers who do business with J. P. Mascaro & Sons, and because of our dedicated company employees who serve those customers. I want to give a special thank you to those customers and employees.”

The “Buzz” on Education Animals: Who are they, really?

At the Elmwood Park Zoo, our feathered, furry, and scaly friends engage and educate the public with the help of trained zoo educators! 

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) issues guidelines to make sure animals and their educators have only positive interactions with the public. 

A live mascot is an animal that attends events with and represents a team, company, or university. Stella the great horned owl represents Temple University as their live mascot, and attends several of the university’s home football and basketball games throughout the year. 

An educational animal attends events on zoo grounds and in the community to educate the public about topics like animal behavior, native species, conservation, and the role of zoos. These animals help represent the educational mission of the Elmwood Park Zoo.

When there is an opportunity and a right fit, educators may consider an education animal for a mascot role. Stella was a part of the education collection before becoming Temple’s live mascot. 

Initially, educators look for an easy-going animal that won’t get startled in front of loud crowds that may move a lot during a program. 

Potential animal ambassadors will first begin training to get accustomed to animal educators. After they begin to build these relationships, educators familiarize the animals with the crates that will be used for travel. Once they master this, the animals adjust to riding in a moving vehicle. Then these animals move on to their next challenge: meeting new people at crowded events. The length and intensity of the initial training is very dependent on the specific animal. 

“Sometimes animals are not a right fit for the job,” said Laura Houston, Director of Education at Elmwood Park Zoo. “In that case, there might be a possibility for an animal to join the exhibit collection. We never force an animal to train.” 

Similarly, animals are gradually “retired” if they experience health or age-related issues. Educators will begin to slowly cut back the animal’s training and appearances at events, and turn their focus to on-site care and enrichment.

The decision to include a specific animal at an educational event is based on a variety of factors: theme, audience, location, and driving distance. 

Ambassador animals may be picked for a certain educational program because of the event’s location (indoor, outdoor, onsite, etc.). For example, education staff knows that Sherlock the great horned owl does better in small group situations, so he primarily participates in on-site events at the zoo, rather than at large auditoriums.  

Similarly, animal ambassadors are restricted by the number of hours they can work in a day and the number of consecutive days they can work. The maximum amount of time an animal is allowed to attend an event is six hours, but it is rare that an animal would attend for that long. Most Zoo-on-Wheels events are four hours total. 

There is a set 90 minute limit for Zoo-on-Wheels and other education programs. The only exemptions are Zoo Day in Harrisburg and the AZA Congressional Reception in Washington, D.C. In addition to time restrictions, there are also temperature guidelines to keep animals safe on the road. 

Even seasoned animals can get overwhelmed on the job. While working, educators pay attention to an animal’s body language cues — like puffed up feathers or spread wings — to see if an animal may be experiencing stress. 

Educators attempt to eliminate any and all sources of stress, like strobe lights, loud music, or other animals. If an animal shows signs of stress during a program, they are immediately given a break, and returned to their holding area. 

Elmwood Park Zoo has been able to work closely with Temple University to provide the best situation for the animals visiting the university. 

Stella, the live great horned owl mascot for Temple University, is a great example of flexibility during an event. She goes on the field at Temple games next to the band and cheerleaders, and educators know she is rock-solid with those events, because of her past appearance successes. 

“We always send out guidelines to our clients in advance and rarely have issues with our animal ambassadors because the goal of our events is education, not entertainment.” Houston said. 

The zoo’s education programs continue to be successful, as the zoo strives to bring educational components to the local community, and beyond!

Written by Paige Miller

Dinosaurs to Make Debut at Elmwood Park Zoo

Elmwood Park Zoo is set to unveil a
large addition to its exhibit collection when they debut Dwayne “The Brach”
Johnson, a 65 foot long, 35 foot tall Brachiosaurus. Dwayne will be officially
available to greet the public on Friday, July 19, beginning at 10:00 am.

The lifelike robot is the creation of
Dino Don, Inc., a Media, PA-based firm responsible for state of the art dinosaur
exhibits that are on display throughout the world. The Brachiosaurus that
they’ve installed in the zoo’s former capybara pond swings his neck and moves
his head while emitting a roar that is similar to the ones heard from the dinos
running amok in the Jurassic Park films.

The zoo held a contest to name the
dinosaur, with people asked to vote on their favorite name from a list that
included “Zacheosaurus,” and “Bracha Lee.” Dwayne “The Brach” Johnson ran away
with the vote, garnering nearly 30% of all 1,300 online respondents.

In addition to Dwayne, guests will see
a smaller Velociraptor robot positioned on the banks of the pond that also
moves and makes noise. The zoo has also created a dig pit for children to
uncover bones and artifacts like their favorite paleontologists, and a giant
Tyrannosaurus Rex head will be on hand for unique photo ops.

Elmwood Park Zoo’s dinosaur exhibit
will be on display through Labor Day. The exhibit is free to view with paid zoo
admission. A 50% off admission discount and other savings are available between
2 and 5 pm on weekdays only. More information is available at elmwoodparkzoo.org.

How seasons affect zoo animal behavior

Many of the Elmwood Park Zoo animals, from the mightiest cougar to the stealthiest alligator, experience seasonal changes, just like people do!

“There is no universal answer for changes in different animal species when the temperature dips, or seasons change,” said Marina Haynes, General Curator at the Elmwood Park Zoo. “Every animal is an individual but sometimes we can detect patterns of change in their behavior.” 

Whenever animal care staff notices changes in an animal’s behavior, they analyze what is happening to see if they can figure out the cause and if there needs to be concern or changes in the animal’s husbandry, said Haynes.

A Temperamental species

Penny, the Elmwood Park Zoo’s own American Alligator, is one animal in the zoo that splits her time between indoor and outdoor exhibits. Many ectotherms (cold-blooded animals), like Penny, have to move indoors because they cannot survive winter temperatures.

Even though Penny was living in an indoor exhibit with steady temperatures, once outdoor temperatures started to climb, her behavior changed. Her activity level increased dramatically because she sensed that it was getting warmer out. Animal care staff knew right away that Penny was saying she wanted to go back outside, though it was a bit too early to be safe.

Zookeepers wait until the final frost date of the season to move Penny, so she can stay outside without fear of the cold. If it is too cold, ectotherms can have trouble moving, and their bodily systems, such as digestion, slow down. This could cause food to decompose inside of the alligator’s digestive tract.

“Climate change is affecting when animals want to be moved,” said Haynes.  “It used to be more predictable when seasons would change and temperatures would be within certain ranges but now we can have 80 degrees day in March and 50 degree days in June. This makes it challenging to know when it is safe for animals to be outside.”

Similarly, when the temperature dips, animals are moved to their indoor enclosures for the colder months. Zoos across the world have developed charts to understand when animals can access indoor and outdoor enclosures to best keep them safe.

A moody mammal

Sometimes an animal can get stressed when something changes in their environment. Animal care staff will monitor an animal with extra caution if they begin to lose weight, lose their appetite, or change their behavior from what they normally do. Sometimes the portions or contents of their meals will be evaluated and a health assessment will be conducted by the veterinary team to make sure there is not an underlying illness.

The Elmwood Park Zoo cougars have exhibited nervous behavior because they are not as acclimated to the presence of humans. This behavior makes sense since these cougars were wild orphans. Their mother was killed by a rancher so they have the natural wariness of humans that wild animals naturally possess.

Because of this, the cougars hide when school groups visit the zoo or when the zoo is very crowded. The excited screams and loud noises that larger crowds make startles them. The cougars are much less nervous in the winter months, when crowds are smaller and quieter.

With lots of time building relationships with animal care staff, the cougars have gotten calmer and more likely to make themselves seen, especially in the late afternoon when it is quieter. If you’re lucky, a cougar may lock eyes with you during your next Elmwood Park Zoo visit!

Written by Paige Miller

Zoo to host school students for “Elementary Education Takeover”

Elmwood Park Zoo is excited to unveil a brand new educational initiative to benefit local school students. Entitled “Elementary Education Takeovers,” the program invites area schools to visit the zoo, free of charge, for a whole day full of experiential learning activities.

The first Elementary Education Takeover is scheduled for Tuesday, May 7, from 10 am to 2 pm. Every first grade student from the Norristown School District, estimated to be over 650 children, will be attending. The students will be treated to a number of special interpretive education stations and a zoo-wide scavenger hunt. 

“Our community is incredibly important to the Elmwood Park Zoo, especially the children. We wanted to create an opportunity that ensured every child in the Norristown school district is able to visit the Zoo at least once so that they can know the wonder of animals,” said Laura Houston, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Director of Education. “We hope that this is an introductory step that will allow students to know the Zoo is a welcoming and valuable resource right in their own backyard.”

The Elementary Education Takeover is made possible by a $12,235.50 grant from the Montgomery County Foundation Inc.’s 2018 Drew Lewis Donor Advised Fund, as well as a $12,000 grant from the Quest for the Best Foundation. Their generous contributions will finance the busing, admission, programs and animal feedings for every student. Elmwood Park Zoo is also providing lunch to every Takeover attendee, free of charge. 

“We are truly fortunate to partner with the Elmwood Park Zoo on this first of its kind ‘Education Takeover’ day,” said Christopher Dormer, Superintendent of Schools. “Their commitment to our students by providing this opportunity for experiential learning will truly benefit and enrich the life and learning of each and every first grade student participating.  We cannot thank them enough for their generosity to host such an event.  We look forward to expanding opportunities for EPZ and NASD to work together to strengthen and enrich the community.”

Elmwood Park Zoo Celebrates 95th Anniversary

Elmwood Park Zoo is observing an exciting milestone in 2019, as the nonprofit organization and Norristown, PA landmark celebrates 95 years of supporting and promoting wildlife conservation.

Elmwood Park Zoo first opened to the public on July 4th, 1924, with 6 white tailed deer headlining its meager collection. Today the zoo is home to dozens of species from all over the globe, including giraffes, jaguars, and zebras. It is one of the oldest zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). In 2018 the zoo welcomed over 600,000 guests, and it saw the number of annual members grow to over 13,000.

“We are proud and excited to be observing such a distinctive occasion,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “It’s humbling to be part of such a long running and beloved institution, and to know that you had a hand in its success.”

In addition to introducing a new 95th Anniversary version of its logo, the zoo plans on commemorating its anniversary throughout the year with various promotions and special events:

Additional promotions and events will be introduced throughout the year. Information on the festivities can be found by visiting epz95.com or elmwoodparkzoo.org, or by calling 610.277.3825 x 222.

Elmwood Park Zoo Receives $20,000 Grant from SEI Cares Fund

Elmwood Park Zoo is pleased to announce it has received a $20,000 grant from the SEI Cares Fund, a charitable donor-advised fund of SEI Investments Co. The grant will be used to continue the zoo’s “Touch Tours” program, which provides tactile and sensory-driven experiences for blind and auditory-impaired children.

“SEI Cares has sustained the ‘Touch Tours’ program for a number of years, and for that, I am extremely grateful,” said Jennifer Conti, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Development Director. “With their support, the zoo can offer more than just a visual experience. Now, students with diverse needs can experience the zoo in a manner that is native to their learning styles; they can feel the soft pelt of a chinchilla, smell the sweet grain of our barn feed, and hear the calls from the Connelly Foundation Birds of Paradise exhibit. It is truly a unique program, and one that we are proud to offer.”

The grant also provides for zoo staff to attend continuing-education classes with teachers from the Overbrook School for the Blind. These classes help the zoo to improve their programs and become a more inclusive facility.

Guests can learn more about Elmwood Park Zoo’s accessibility services and amenities by visiting elmwoodparkzoo.org/visit/accessibility-amenities.

Read Across America Features Author Jerry Spinelli

Author Jerry Spinelli and a host of other special guests will help Elmwood Park Zoo celebrate their annual Read Across America event on Saturday, March 2, from 11 AM to 2 PM. Read Across America is an event organized by the National Education Association. It celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Seuss by encouraging children and young adults to read.

The zoo’s celebration features Mr. Spinelli, a Norristown native and acclaimed author of “Maniac Magee” and “Stargirl.” He will be greeting guests and signing books in the zoo’s Canopy Gardens Hall.

Additional special guests will include members of RSVP, a King of Prussia-based organization that supports communities through volunteerism. They will be reading popular English and Spanish language children’s stories.

Popular PBS Kids character Super Why will be greeting guests, courtesy of his friends from the WHYY Kids Club.

In addition to the special guest appearances, Read Across America will also feature a book fair, live animal greets, and a used book drive that benefits RSVP. Read Across America is a free to attend event after purchasing regular zoo admission.

Owl you need is love: Stella and Sherlock’s wedding

Source: Temple University Temple Now

Written by Samantha Krotzer

For Temple’s live mascot Stella and her longtime partner Sherlock, it was love at first flight. Now, they’re officially married.

Sometimes, all it takes to spark real, lasting love is a single, shared moment. Getting caught in the rain. Catching each other’s eye from across the room. Finding you both love soaking up the morning sunshine that hits your perch at the Elmwood Park Zoo, which is exactly what sparked love for two owls.

Two, very real, very live owls.

“One of my first memories of Stella and Sherlock is from when they would sit on their perch. It was very cute to see them next to each other,” said Rebecca Oulton, an educator at Elmwood Park Zoo.

And now, five years after they met, Stella and Sherlock are starting the next chapter of their love story—they’ve said “I do.”

But how exactly did their love story start? And, we have to ask, does everyone know who Stella and Sherlock are? If you don’t know Stella, don’t worry, you’re not alone. If you don’t know Sherlock, well, no one really does. Or did, until now.

Both great horned owls are education ambassadors at the Elmwood Park Zoo and help teach the public about their species and wildlife conservation. Originally from Washington State, Stella came to Elmwood Park Zoo in 2011 and began her career as Temple’s live mascot in 2013.  

Sherlock, proving that opposites really do attract, is more of a homebody. He came to the Elmwood Park Zoo in 2012 under unfortunate circumstances. When he lived in the wild, he was struck by a car and severely injured. As he recovered at the zoo, he found love with Stella. Now he spends his days teaching zoo visitors about the natural behaviors and characteristics of great horned owls while Stella goes out to Temple athletic events or other special programs.

“The public doesn’t get to see these animals in the wild, so here at the zoo they get to see what they look like, what they sound like, how big they really are,” said Timothy Stephenson, an educator at Elmwood Park Zoo.

The two love birds are united by their service, and, of course, their affinity for their sunny perch.

“Valentine’s Day is a perfect date for the two of them because they get all of the limelight and the fanfare that goes along with the holiday,” said Oulton. “And I know Stella definitely likes to be in the spotlight so it was a wonderful choice for the two.”

Though Stella has been described as a diva, the ceremony was an intimate event with just a few close friends. Oulton was Stella’s maid of honor and Stephenson was Sherlock’s best man. Noah, a bald eagle and the official live mascot for the Philadelphia Eagles, officiated their union.

Eastern screech owls Munchkin and Zeppelin tossed cherry rose petals—the couple’s favorite color—to mark the occasion. And with another simple, shared moment, Stella and Sherlock tied the knot.

“Weddings play an important role in uniting communities and helping them to generate a sense of solidarity,” said Associate Professor of Sociology Dustin Kidd. “The marriage of Stella and Sherlock is also an affirmation of the important relationship between the university and the community, as represented in the partnership with Elmwood Park Zoo. We hope it inspires Temple students to forge a lifelong partnership with learning.”

Follow Stella and Sherlock’s love story on social media and share your own with #OwlentinesDay.

As education ambassadors, Stella and Sherlock are not part of an exhibit at the Elmwood Park Zoo. They may only be seen by participating in programs at the zoo or outreach programs at other locations. Learn more about how to see the owls and explore the Elmwood Park Zoo’s educational offerings.

Happy Owlentine’s Day: Temple University’s live mascot great horned owl, Stella, says ‘I do’ at the Elmwood Park Zoo.

Original source: Philly.com

Written by Grace Dickinson

For two lovebirds, this Valentine’s Day week held a rather extra-special occasion.

On Wednesday morning, Temple University’s live mascot, Stella, said “I do” to her longtime sweetheart, the big-eyed Sherlock, whom she’s lived alongside for the last seven years at the Elmwood Park Zoo.

The two great horned owls hosted a casual backyard wedding at their Norristown home, officiated by longtime pal Noah, the bald eagle mascot of the Eagles.

“She was very demanding, and luckily everything turned out great, and it was all up to par for Stella’s tastes,” says maid of honor and Elmwood Park Zoo educator Rebecca Oulton, who refers to Stella as a “big diva” in a video capturing the special day.

Little Munchkin, an eastern screech owl who also lives at the zoo, served as flower girl, while fellow eastern screech owl Zeppelin played the role of a flower boy.

Stella and Sherlock are rescued birds that were rehabilitated and cannot be released back into the wild.

“They now each serve as ambassadors of their species and help to educate kids about the natural world,” says Laura Houston, director of education at Elmwood Park Zoo.

Houston notes that the two both have bold personalities, and while you’ll never find them cuddling, once nighttime falls, Stella and Sherlock spend much of their time hooting back and forth at one another.

Temple has officially declared their lifelong anniversary date as Owlentines Day.

[Cover photo taken by Betsy Manning/Temple University Photography]

10 Questions with a Keeper

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a zookeeper? Keeper Kelsey gives us the scoop! 

Working in an animal care profession is no easy task! It requires years of schooling, training, hands-on experience, and a deep love for animals. Zookeepers work day in and day out, even when it’s 110° or -20°, to take care of the animals under their care.

EPZ Keeper Kelsey gives us the inside scoop on the ins-and-outs of keeper life:

1. What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

My daily responsibilities include cleaning all animal areas, medicating animals as directed, feeding animals as directed, observing animals for any health/behavioral issues/changes, diet preparation as needed, providing animals with species appropriate enrichment, record keeping, and operant conditioning with your assigned animals.

2. What's your favorite part about working at your job?

I don’t really have a favorite! I love so many aspects of my job, cleaning, seeing my animals everyday, watching any babies we’ve had grow up, animal training, giving keeper talks.

3. What's your least favorite part about working at your job?

Probably having to wake up so early in the morning!

4. What do you see as the most challenging aspect of your job?

Sometimes interacting with guests can be the most challenging aspect of the job! Most are wonderful and enjoy learning something new, but occasionally you get people who don’t agree with zoos and are looking for someone to argue or fight with. Remaining cool, calm, and collected can be a challenge!

5. What achievement are you most proud about in your job?

For me, I am most proud of one of my training projects: Mateo the Ocelot. He was always difficult to shift out and get him to happily stay out on exhibit. Over the last two years I’ve worked with him and done some troubleshooting with the exhibit, and now he happily goes out onto exhibit everyday and comfortably stays out there! I’ve also worked on other behaviors with him and now he will even take vaccinations through the fence for us!

6. What are the important skills needed for this job?

You have to be observant, hard-working, work well both alone and in a team, patient, compassionate, resilient, it also certainly helps to be good at reading animal body language and to be physically strong enough to lift and move 50+lbs regularly, but those are also things you can grow as you develop your career.

7. Can you tell us about a difficult situation you were in, and how you resolved it?

Helping to come to the decision to humanely euthanize our male bison, Tatonka, last year. Its always tough to make this call for any animal but its super important to be able to step back and look at your animals and make a decision without letting your emotions get in the way. We love each and every one of our animals and don’t want them to suffer in any way. When we think its getting close to that time we have discussions with the keeper staff, management, and vet staff. We create quality of life assessment forms so we can accurately track how our animals are doing and notice quickly if their quality of life appears to be degrading and make a decision from there.

8. What made you want to work at the zoo?

At first I was interested due the large variety of species housed at the zoo and by the small size of the zoo itself. After my interview with the other keepers I really also wanted to work with them as well, they’re like a second family and super fun to work with!

9. What does your work schedule look like?

I work four ten-hour days a week. I work every weekend, both Saturdays and Sundays. I’m typically at work from 6:50am until 6:15pm. We also all split up the holidays, so that we all work a few of them.

10. What kind of schooling/training did you do before getting this job?

I took a lot of science and biology courses in high school. I went to Unity College in Maine where I got a Bachelors of Science in Captive Wildlife Care and Education. I volunteered at a nature center for 7 years, I volunteered and worked with horses for over 10 years, I’ve also had a few internships at zoos to gain more practical experience. I have some firearms training, operant conditioning training, some limited training on how to give injections, and I like to try and keep myself up to date on new animal information and conservation topics.

Why Should We Count Birds?

As we grow closer to February’s “Great Backyard Bird Count,” it’s easy to wonder about the importance of counting birds. How can something so simple really make a difference for the habitats and livelihood of birds? Can an individual really help out thousands of birds colonies around the country? Short answer: YES! 

How can counting birds make a difference?

Scientists, conservationists, and bird enthusiasts can all gain a lot from the data reflected in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Especially given the fact that they are a flighted animal, numbers on bird populations are always changing. There’s little chance that one small group of scientists could accurately keep track of all of the changing bird patterns throughout a year. That’s where the citizen-scientists come in! The more data that comes in, the easier it is for scientists to track patterns and similarities across the board for these bird species. This data helps them answer important questions on a variety of subjects, including the ones below:

  • Climate change and how it affects populations
  • Habitat locations
  • Migration patterns
  • Bird diseases
  • Bird diversity in rural, suburban, and urban areas

What is the Great Backyard Bird Count?

According to the official website: “Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time. Now, more than 160,000 people of all ages and walks of life worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.”

Great Backyard Bird Count at EPZ

Register for a free and interactive bird-counting session at the zoo with our education department! Learn more here! 

Written by: Ali Chiavetta

Source: GBBC website

Living Green in 2019

Make your New Years resolution one that benefits the planet!

Five resolutions for more sustainable living

Click each drop-down below to learn more about ways to make 2019 your greenest year yet!

Every household has an individual carbon footprint. This term typically refers to the amount of greenhouse gases produced by members in the household, through a variety of activities. A carbon audit calculates the amount of resources used, specifically in the areas of home energy, transportation and waste. Conducting a carbon audit for your household helps you and your family stay in the know, and make smart cost-effective choices to lessen your impact. Use this as a starting point for 2019! 

Food waste is an enormous issue across the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly 1/3 of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets lost or is wasted. That’s 1.3 billion tons!

How can you help combat that number? Prepare your grocery lists ahead of time. While it may be tempting to stop and shop on your way home, you’re more likely to pick up items you don’t need or won’t use on an impulse trip. Look at your week ahead, and plan your shopping list plan accordingly! This will not only help you cut down on unnecessary food waste, but will help you save money too!

While minimalism became trendy throughout much of 2018,  some found it difficult to embark on such a limited lifestyle. Similar to food waste, however, many people purchase on a regular basis that get little to no use, and are either thrown away, or stored for long periods of time. To avoid this practice, approach purchasing your goods in a similar way to purchasing your food: plan ahead of time. This simple step helps cut down on impulse buys that will save you money and space, and won’t end up in a landfill. 

When purchasing items like clothing, furniture, housewares, etc., consider purchasing secondhand from individual sellers, consignment shops, or donation stores. When purchasing secondhand, you’re giving new life to a previously used item, rather than using the resources it takes to create a new one. Again, this is typically easier on your wallet, and saves these gently used items from sitting in a landfill. 

Single-use items like plastic silverware, plastic bags, coffee cups, straws, paper napkins, and plastic water bottles can all be easily replaced by reusable substitutes. Though their cost may be higher upfront, using reusable items will actually save you money in the long run, and will make a huge difference in the amount of trash produced by your household each year.

In 2019, try plastic-free reusable alternatives like stainless steel, glass, bamboo, cloth, etc.! 

When it comes to the environment, ignorance is not bliss. It’s important to stay up on critical environmental issues, especially as that continues to be a “hot topic” in today’s society. You can make a positive difference in your community by staying informed, and being vocal with lawmakers about the issues that are important to you and the earth! 

Written by Ali Chiavetta

Pets and Zoos

That might seem like a strange headline but this topic is a surprisingly big part of my job at the zoo. Multiple times a week, I receive calls from people asking me to take their pets, both exotic and domestic animals. Usually it is because they are no longer able to care for their pet and are hoping that we can take it and give it a home. Unfortunately, space and resources are always consideration so in the majority of cases, we are not be able to provide a home for your pet. At the end of this blog, there are some suggestions on how to find a home for your pet if you find yourself in this situation.

That’s why I wanted to share with everyone how important it is to do your research before deciding to add an animal friend to your family. By knowing what you are getting into in advance, you can make sure that you will be able to provide for your animal companion for its entire life. Domestic animals are usually the best suited as companions but exotic species can also make for good additions to the family if you know how to provide for their needs. Even with domestic animals, people are sometimes surprised by the level of commitment required to take good care of their pet and then feel bad if they cannot fulfill those requirements. The key is to be prepared before you even add the companion animal to your family. This way you do not end up trying to find a home for it if you realize that you cannot meet the needs of the animal.

Some important factors to consider:

How long is the animal expected to live?

If well taken care of, species like turtles and parrots can live for many decades, sometimes a long as 60 or 70 years! Your pet might outlive you so are you prepared to find another home if that happens? Do you want a pet that is a lifetime commitment?

What special foods will it need?

Many reptiles suffer from metabolic bone disease because they do not get adequately balanced diets. They require specific ratios of calcium and phosphorus and should be fed diets that are carefully balanced. Parrots should not be fed seed-based diets for a similar reason. Seed diets are not balanced nutritionally and allow the bird to pick its favorite seeds which is a little like letting a child pick out all their food. I want ice cream instead of my vegetables too, but I know that is not good for me! Specially formulated pellets for parrots get around that problem by providing balanced nutrition in every bite.

Species such as snakes will need whole mice or rats to eat. Are you comfortable handling dead mice to feed your pet?

Feeding predators live prey presents an ethical dilemma – what about the welfare of the mouse? Most snakes will readily feed on dead thawed mice, which is considered more humane than putting a live mouse in with a snake where it would have no opportunity to escape as it would in the wild.

Does it need special housing?

Many people purchase cute little baby turtles like red eared sliders without realizing the commitment needed for aquatic turtles. These turtles need a terrarium with water and land, and are very messy, so they require lots of cleaning to maintain. Adding to that, is that they can easily live for 30 years. Do you want to have a high maintenance pet for that long? Other species require special things like UV light and heat supplementation if they are housed indoors. Reptiles are the best example of this requirement but there is emerging evidence that other species like birds need to have UV exposure as well to maintain health and good feather condition.

How big will it get?

It is NOT true that fish or reptiles will only grow as large as the enclosure they are kept in. Both fish and reptiles continue to grow for their whole life, and if they are not growing, they are stunted because of improper care, not the size of the enclosure they are kept in. That tiny little iguana you might see will end up topping off at over 6 feet in length and will require a room sized enclosure. Be sure to plan for the full adult size of your pet, not what you have available now. If you don’t want to give a room of your house to an iguana, consider a species like a bearded dragon which will top off at 12-14” in size.

Ethical and conservation considerations

Some species are collected illegally from the wild. Be extra careful that you are not supporting the worldwide trade in animals. The sales of millions of animals every year is driven by the desire for exotic pets. Unfortunately, many of these animals are kept in horrendous conditions after they are captured, and a majority die before they even made it to sale. Much of this demand is for the desire for novelty as a pet. This is simply not worth the suffering to all of these animals and drives some species even closer to extinction. Many animals being sold online are marketed as captive-bred but this is not always accurate. The best way to make sure that you are getting a captive-bred animal is to contact hobbyists for breeder recommendations, and to research potential breeders to make sure they operate responsibly and humanely. One easy way to avoid this problem is to stick with domestic animals – dogs and cats are not endangered and so many are in need of good homes! Even exotic pets need to be adopted, though, so contact rescues or look on Petfinder.com rather than purchasing an animal that feeds the pet trade.

Avoid impulse purchases of a pet

The cute chick or baby rabbit you see around Easter is going to grow up quick and live a long time. A chicken can live 4-8 years and is a much different animal than that fuzzy little chick. A rabbit can live 8-12 years and requires exercise and attention to be happy and healthy. Similarly, do not participate in activities that give out animals as prizes. This continues to perpetuate the idea of animals as disposable pets. Social media also has a hand in driving the desire for exotic pets. Remember to keep in mind all of the important aspects of being a responsible pet owner, and do not let that adorable picture of a famous person cuddling override logic in deciding on a companion animal.

Species we most frequently get calls about re-homing:

Keep in mind that a lot of the knowledge on how to care for exotic animals is not easily available and that professional zoo staff spend their entire career continually learning and improving care for the species they work with. You will have to do a lot of research to make sure that you have the best, most accurate, and latest knowledge if you want to keep an exotic animal as a pet. It is not impossible but it is a commitment you accept when you decide you want an exotic animal as a pet.

What to do if you already have a pet you need to re-home?

If you find yourself in this situation, remember that most zoos are not likely to be able to take your pet. You can inquire, but do not be surprised if you do not get a response or receive a no as answer simply because of the volume of these requests. Responsible zoos follow what is called a collection plan where the research has been done to plan the spaces available in the zoo. This means that most of the spaces, even when temporarily empty, have plans for what will be filling them to meet guest experience, conservation and educational goals. Unless your pet fits into those plans, a zoo will not likely be interested in taking your pet.

A more fruitful approach would be to search for specific species rescues. There are a number of privately operated rescues that help with placement of unwanted pets. For example, there are bird and reptile rescues all over the country. These are often good places to start with requesting help in placing your pet. Internet searches with terms such as “rescue Pennsylvania” will give you lots of options to explore. Searching for clubs is another angle to explore. For example, there are bird clubs in Pennsylvania such as the Chester County Bird Club that have enthusiasts that could provide you with advice in finding a home for your bird.

Keep in mind that many rescues are labors of love and so people do this on a voluntary basis. They are sometimes not able to take animals directly but instead work with networks of others that help foster or provide homes for animals in need. Red eared sliders are among the hardest to place species at this time as they are easy to breed, cheap to buy and start off small so people do not realize what they are getting into. There is a glut of sliders that need homes already in rescue which makes placement of this species particularly challenging.

Another option would be to post your animal on a service like Petfinder. This will help get people in contact with you who might be looking for a pet. Remember to always verify any potential homes for your pet and make sure new owners understand the commitment they are taking on, otherwise we just continue to perpetuate the problem!

Written by: Former EPZ General Curator Marina Haynes

Choosing LEDs for your Holiday Lights

From our holiday Wild Lights displays, to the lights you decorate your home with, to the strands that circle your tree, the holiday season is filled with LIGHTS! While these are often a festive indicator of the excitement to come, the large amount of lights being used can take a toll on your energy bill, and the environment at large. Fortunately for businesses and consumers, LEDs are readily available, and are growing in popularity. 

What's the deal with LEDs?

LED lights use “light-emitting diodes” instead of filament to create their light. LEDs don’t burn out like traditional bulbs, and don’t get hot to the touch- making them a safer choice inside and outside the home! Though they may cost a bit more up front, their value lasts for years, as they are known to be more durable than traditional lights.

Do they really save more energy?

Absolutely! According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use 75% less energy than traditional bulbs! While other bulbs can use produce up to 90% of their energy as wasted heat, LEDs don’t get hot to the touch! Aside from saving so much energy, LEDs can last 25x as long as standard bulbs! That’s a win-win!

Untitled design-2

LED lights have come a long way in recent years. What once were piercing blue-toned lights that were not pleasing to the eye, now exist in a variety of styles and colors! While you may pay a bit more for them initially, LED lights help cut down on environmental impact during the holidays because of the energy they save. Your wallet will thank you when your winter energy bill comes!

Source: The Spruce

Written by Ali Chiavetta

How to Become a Vet Tech

Vet Tech Kourtney doing an annual bat exam

One question I get asked often is:  “How do I become a zoo vet tech?”  I wish I could tell you that there is a college program called “Zoological Veterinary Technology” and once you graduate, you pick the zoo you want to work at and voila!   Unfortunately… it’s not quite that simple. A big part of getting into the zoo field is being in the right place at the right time. But don’t worry- what I can tell you is the steps to take if you think being a zoo vet tech is the right career path for you.  Your first step is enroll at a college with a Veterinary Technology program. You can find a list of AVMA accreditted schools here.

Depending on whether you get an Associate of Applied Science degree or a Bachelor of Science degree, vet tech school will take you somewhere between 2 and 4 years to complete.  Once you graduate from school, you will have to take the national board exam in order to become licensed. Now, this is where most people want to start their career at a zoo. However, you probably won’t be quite ready yet!  While you do get the chance to learn about a lot of different species of animals in school, there aren’t programs specifically for zoo medicine. Chances are, you will have 3 or 4 classes that pertain to birds, reptiles and small mammals.  The best advice I can give you is to get started at a dog and cat hospital. You can work at a general practice, a specialty or referral hospital or even in shelter medicine. The point is, you need to put all that schooling to the test and learn how to apply what you learned in school to real life practice! You will want to become familiar with different diseases, diagnostic testing and treatment options. There is an abundant amount of information available on cats and dogs, so you want to soak up all the knowledge you can working with them.

 A veterinary hospital is also a great place to practice your clinical skills. Trust me, you’ll want to feel comfortable drawing blood from a dog before you try to draw blood from a Golden Lion Tamarin! You will have many more opportunities for skills like placing intravenous catheters, monitoring anesthesia and assisting in surgery at a busy small animal hospital. You won’t get the opportunity to “practice” these skills at a zoo; if you are working on a North American River Otter and need an IV catheter, you had better know how to place one!

The hardest part is getting your foot in the door at a zoo.  Take any opportunity you can! I started as a volunteer before I got hired as an educator at a zoo.  Neither of these has much to do with veterinary medicine, but I did learn how to take care of different animals and how zoos operate.  Experience is invaluable. I would also recommend you join the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians (AZVT) and check out their website. There, you can find zoos that offer zoo vet tech internships, (but be prepared that most of these internships are unpaid) and you will also find information on AZVT’s annual conference.  If you can, attend the conference and talk to zoo vet techs from all over the country. Get to know them and ask them about their internship programs. You are much more likely to be chosen for an intern spot if they have met you in person.  Plus, the conference is a lot of fun! A different zoo hosts it each year and part of the conference is a day at the host zoo. All of the lectures and discussions are also about zoo medicine, and some of them are really interesting. One of the lectures from this year talked about how to manage pain with opioid patches on snakes!  

The most important thing to remember when wanting to join this veterinary niche is patience.  It takes patience and perseverance to break into zoo medicine, but it is an incredibly rewarding career.  I love working with animals that some people have only ever seen on television, or read about in books. I feel like the work I do is important.  I am able to use the information I gain by taking care of the animals at Elmwood Park Zoo, to help their wild counterparts around the world, and that’s pretty incredible.

Written by Vet Tech Kourtney Conti

Green Your Halloween

As we count down the days to Halloween, many people enjoy the decorations and costumes that come along the way! Holidays don’t have to hurt the planet (or your wallet)… take a look at the following ways to “green” your Halloween this year! 

Green Tips:

additional resources:

Written by Ali Chiavetta

Palm Oil-free Halloween candy

You can do your part to help by only supporting companies that make sustainable, palm-oil free candies this Halloween.

Go the extra mile and help write letters to ask large companies to stop using unsustainably-sourced palm oil! 

Our friends at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo made this helpful PDF to use as a template when writing your letter! 

You can also download their sustainable palm oil shopping app to help you make easier decisions when you’re in the grocery store! 

Learn more about what’s being done around the world through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil HERE.

Horticulture Tips: Autumn Edition

After nearly a year of planning, the zoo’s horticulture team is ready to transform the zoo’s grounds for autumn! It’s important for us to plan ahead and coordinate with our plant providers well in advance to make sure that we’re able to get the variety and quantity of plants that we select. We source our plants from three outstanding local nurseries: Genuardi Gardens & Greenhouses in Norristown, The Rhoads Garden in North Wales, and Behmerwald Nursery in Schwenksville. Those plants will live both in containers and in the ground throughout the zoo this fall.

Pansies are a cool-weather flower and do a great job of filling in for our spent marigolds and petunias (They’re also edible! Add some flowers to your salad for a healthy dose of rutin, which strengthens capillary walls and helps prevent varicose veins). We’ve had three growing seasons to test and refine our pansy selection since the horticulture department’s inception in 2015. Certain cultivars thrive in the zoo’s environment more than others (your mileage may vary!). We’ve found that the solid yellow and orange varieties tend to fade quickly, while the Delta and Matrix have shown greater longevity. These are patented varieties of pansy that have been bred for large blooms, heat tolerance, a branching growth habit, and reliable color throughout the late summer and autumn. We’re especially fond of the Matrix Yellow Blotch because – appropriately enough – it resembles a jaguar’s spots. Our team is looking forward to trying the Matrix Raspberry Sundae Mixture for the first time this year. Regular deadheading will keep these plants looking tidy and promote blooming throughout the entire growing season. Just a few minutes a day is all you need to sustain happy, vibrant flowers. Pansies are capable of overwintering in the ground nicely. We’ve observed that more than 50% of the zoo’s pansies planted in the fall return the following spring, which saves us both time and money. For the best chance of survival, beds should be covered before storms to protect from heavy ice and snow. Regular mulch will do the job or, if you’re feeling festive, you can give your Christmas tree a second life: save its branches and keep them on hand for when you see a storm in the forecast.

Chrysanthemums, or mums, have plentiful long-lasting blooms and are perfect for providing color and drama to your garden through the late fall. They’re a major component of the zoo’s seasonal displays. Although they can be perennial in our hardiness zone if planted correctly (in the spring and in well-drained soil), we have no expectations for them to return next year. Many of the mums you may see in stores now have been indoors for their entire lives and are forced to bloom early. Therefore, they don’t have enough energy left over to grow roots and establish themselves before going dormant. Without a strong root system, plants cannot withstand the winter’s brutal freeze-thaw cycles and will be pushed out of the soil. This is called frost heaving and you can clearly see its effects on our pitiful Pennsylvania roads. 

For our photo ops, we’ll include corn stalks donated by the Norristown Farm Park, hay bales, and purple millet grass. These will help fill in the displays and make the bright colors of the pumpkins and mums pop. 

Our team is excited to create a brand new pollinator garden behind the scenes this fall. The zoo currently maintains two beehives which are not yet on exhibit, but their resident honey bees could frequently be found on our main path collecting nectar and pollen during the summer. Although they’re capable of traveling miles away from their hives, we’re happy to provide a reliable food source in their direct vicinity. Any well-planned garden will offer year-round visual interest. Similarly, an effective pollinator garden incorporates plants with staggered bloom times to ensure a steady supply of nectar and pollen throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Coral bells, coneflowers, goldenrod, and asters will help the bees to do their job of preparing honey to sustain the hive through the winter.

Written by Lindsay Friedenberg, EPZ horticulture staff

Diego’s big move

Diego the jaguar goes on a big move from Norristown to Memphis, Tennessee! 

Planning stages...

As the cubs got older, we as an animal care staff knew that it was only a matter of time before Inka would not tolerate their presence anymore. For humans, it might sound surprising not to want your kids around anymore, but for a solitary jaguar, it is a normal part of the maturation process. In the wild, parents will drive their offspring away once they are old enough to survive on their own. Inka was showing less and less patience with her cubs as they grew to be more than half her size, so we started practicing separation in order to get the cubs used to being alone for increasing lengths of time. 

While we were working on that, I contacted the Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinator to let him know that we would soon need to find another zoo for Diego since Zean would not be tolerant of another adult male close by. Luna gets more leeway as a female cub! The coordinator worked on some population planning, and found that Memphis Zoo could take Diego and another young female, (Filomena) so we started working on plans for that move.

The first step was getting Diego used to the travel crate. Crates for big cat species are extremely durable as cats are very strong! We had to bring the crate up to Trail of the Jaguar and set it up in the night housing area. It is strapped to a special door that is used for crating and transfer. Once that was in place, keeper staff began training Diego to enter the crate voluntarily for treats. We even practiced opening and shutting the crate door with him inside, and making some banging noises on it so he would be used to those sounds. As expected, he picked up really quickly as he is very motivated to train, so before we knew it, we were making the final plans to move him to Memphis! We decided to transport him by vehicle rather than air shipment, so keeper Mel and I got ready for a road trip to Memphis!

On the day of the move...

Late in the afternoon, we made sure to keep everything normal on routine and asked Diego to crate. This time, we kept the door shut instead of opening it. It stayed shut,and a crew of staff picked up the crate and carried it out to our transport vehicle (one of our Zoo-on-Wheels vehicles). With a wave goodbye from staff, we hit the road for an overnight trip. Diego traveled better than we could have hoped for! He was calm and looking around, (even peeking out the back window of the van like a dog for portions of the trip) and even settled down for a nap a few times. He actually slept more than we did on that journey!

Once we arrived in Memphis the next morning, the keeper staff at Diego’s new home greeted us and we quickly got his travel crate mounted to the quarantine enclosure at Memphis and opened the door. When Filomena (his new female companion) arrived at Memphis, she took two hours to come out of her crate but I had a feeling that Diego would be bolder! He was… and came out of his crate after only a couple of minutes of peeking around, and then got busy smelling and exploring his new space. Since we needed to let Diego settle in, we spent some time walking around Memphis Zoo and snapped a picture of his new habitat at Memphis. Mel got to visit with some staff she used to work with since she used to be a keeper there in the cat exhibit, so she knew he would be going to good hands.

Of course, we will miss him but we are excited to have Diego get paired up with Filomena and hope to hear about his cubs in the not too distant future! 

Written by Former General Curator  Marina Haynes

SAFE Update: Invest in the Nest- One Year Later

Last year, Elmwood Park Zoo played a role in helping to promote the Kickstarter campaign, and to encourage our guests, volunteers, and staff to actively participate in the SAFE program for African penguins.

Excerpt taken from the September 2018 issue of “Connect” magazine:

African penguin populations have declined from more than one million to just 25,000 breeding pairs over the last century, due largely to human activity. The birds naturally nest in guano, but over-harvesting of guano for fertilizer has resulted in only about 27 natural nests being left. A lack of nests means a lack of protection for eggs, which are vulnerable to overheating on bare rock in the hot sun and increased predation. The SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction African penguin program is working to address this threat and help save wild African penguins. Exactly one year ago, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the SAFE African penguin program launched an “Invest in the Nest” Kickstarter campaign to raise $150,000 in just 30 days to fund the creation and installation of artificial nests for penguin colonies in South Africa and Namibia. With the help of the zoo and aquarium community and thousands of generous Kickstarter backers from around the world, we surpassed our goal and our stretch goal, enabling AZA members to invest in more than 2,000 artificial nests. 

Now, some of those nests are home to African penguins in the wild. This past fall, our team of scientists from Dallas Zoo and partners constructed the first 200 artificial nests for wild colony and durability testing. The artificial nests were specifically designed for temperature control and predator protection, and crafted individually by hand to give the penguins a home in which to raise their young. These nests, inanition to monitoring and security equipment, have been installed at two penguin colonies so far. Already, we’re seeing results. Just two weeks after the nests were installed, researchers shared that penguins at Bird Island had laid eggs in 65 percent of the nests in the Dyer Island colony also had eggs. The usage rate of the nests continues to climb as the breeding season progresses. Almost all of the nests (96%) have been occupied at some point following their installation. 

What’s next? The SAFE African penguin program and partners will continue to collect and analyze the environmental data, and use these findings to further improve nest designs. We plan to build hundreds more nests, and in the long-term, have at least 6,000 artificial nests in penguin colonies to support the next generation of African penguins. But African penguins face multiple threats, all of which still need to be addressed. Through SAFE, AZA and partners are collaborating on additional research projects, including individual identification, health monitoring, disaster response, public engagement, and the African Penguin Species Survival Plan program. 

Last year, Elmwood Park Zoo played a role in helping to promote the Kickstarter campaign, and to encourage our guests, volunteers, and staff to actively participate in the SAFE program for African penguins.

Elmwood Park Zoo joins with outside forces for jaguar surgery

Elmwood Park Zoo’s adult female jaguar, Inka, recently underwent dental surgery to help remove a badly damaged canine tooth. Elmwood Park Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Michele Goodman recruited the help of veterinary dental specialist Dr. John Lewis of NorthStar Vets, veterinary anesthesiologist Dr. Andrea Caniglia of Veterinary Dental Specialists, and Brandywine Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Erica Miller to help with Inka’s procedure. The zoo was also fortunate to have the support of Jeff Scharff, District Sales Manager of Planmed, Inc., who provided the Verity® Cone Beam Computed Tomography Scanner to evaluate Inka’s teeth, and Dr. Elizabeth McMurtrie of Spring House Animal Hospital, who loaned the zoo a portable blood analyzer so that Inka could be carefully monitored while under anesthesia.

Inka's surgery team post-procedure

Thanks to training administered by Elmwood Park Zoo Animal Keeper Kate Olsen and Assistant Curator Laura Fournier, Inka voluntarily received an injection of sedative.  Within 10 minutes of the injection, Inka was ready for her procedure. Her head was placed inside the scanner and images were obtained of her skull and mouth. After reviewing the scans, the veterinary team confirmed that Inka’s upper right canine tooth was beyond repair and needed to be removed to protect her health.

With the scans complete, general anesthesia was induced. Inka was intubated and hooked up to monitoring equipment. In addition to routine monitoring equipment, Dr. Caniglia placed an arterial catheter to continuously monitor Inka’s blood pressure. Inka also received intravenous fluids and supplemental medications throughout the procedure. Spring House Animal Hospital used their portable blood analyzer to sample Inka’s electrolyte and blood gas levels every 30 minutes to ensure that the big cat was doing well under anesthesia. While assisting with anesthetic monitoring, Elmwood Park Zoo Veterinary Technicians Holly Brown and Kourtney Conti collected blood samples for routine evaluation of liver, kidney and heart function.

Dental extractions are no easy feat; they require doctors to employ both skill and patience to preserve the tissues and structures around the extracted tooth. Elmwood Park Zoo recently obtained a state-of-the-art dental machine that Dr. Lewis used for the procedure. Following the successful extraction of the damaged canine tooth, Dr. Lewis sutured the soft tissues over the extraction site. Another essential part of dental extractions is managing the patient’s pain. Dr. Lewis used a series of nerve blocks to alleviate pain at the extraction site and he placed Inka on two pain medications to maintain her comfort following surgery. 

Overall Inka’s exam and dental surgery took just under five hours. Thanks to the diligent patient care and monitoring that Inka received by the talented group of experts who assembled for her procedure, she is doing extremely well. The surgical site is expected to heal over the next two to three weeks, after which Inka will be able to return to her normal diet.

Who’s Who at the Zoo: Painter Dave

The zoo has kept painter and artist David Michener very busy over the last few years. From his naturalistic vistas in select animal exhibits to the massive animal mural that over looks the extended parking lot, David has been positively transforming Elmwood Park Zoo, one brush stroke at a time.

“I always had it in me,” David says when describing his artistic ability. He recalls the lessons his grandmother, herself an established artist, would give him as a young boy. He put his developing talent to use early on, selling sketches of Batman for a penny each to his fellow schoolmates at lunch.   

David describes the creative ideas he often receives as “flashes” in his head. He says he was overjoyed to be able to apply his creativity to his work at the zoo, which began four years ago with a mural he painted for the interior of the squirrel monkey exhibit. 

Since then, David has painted murals for the other primate exhibits, as well as the gorgeous sunset that adorns the walls of the African straw-colored fruit bat enclosure. He also is responsible for the cougar exhibit and the vibrant artwork inside the zoo’s administrative conference room. 

David Michener in action

He admits that his most challenging work to this point has been the rock walls in the red panda enclosure. David mixed over one ton of concrete and sand and then painstakingly laid it over wire mesh to create the facade that resembles the rocky Himalayan landscape of the panda’s natural habitat.

We couldn’t help but ask what he’s got in mind for the zoo next. “I’m very excited for the future,” is all he’ll say. As the zoo continues to grow and develop, you can expect to see more of David Michener’s art beautifying spaces and adding dimension to exhibits. 

Written by Shaun Rogers

Plant Tips for Fall from a Horticulturalist

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” (origin unknown).

Labor Day and the beginning of the school year are bittersweet signs that summer is coming to an end, but the arrival of fall brings the opportunity to make big moves and get some quality time in the garden. In a series of upcoming posts, we’ll explore the horticultural team’s fall plans as well as growing winter vegetables, spring bulbs, shrubs & trees, and turf and cover crops during the months ahead. Autumn leaves are falling, and they lend the perfect backdrop and ambiance to your time spent in the garden.

We understand how tempting it is to add some life and color to your landscape as soon as the weather warms up in the spring, but unfortunately, gardening prematurely in wet conditions can lead to major setbacks. To understand why, we’ll need to zoom in and take a look at the soil. It may not appear too exciting on the surface, but there is an entire universe hidden beneath our feet. Soil is an incredibly lively and productive ecosystem with countless bacteria, fungi, and fauna forming a life-supporting structure capable of decomposing organic matter, releasing nutrients, and maintaining the ground’s structural integrity. For our purposes, that means a robust medium with plenty of available nutrients and oxygen for our plants. Wet soil becomes compacted when it’s stepped on or worked with, which squashes those important air pockets and makes it more difficult for roots to grow. Plants in compacted soil are trying harder to survive and have less energy to create flowers and bountiful foliage.

Many diseases need moisture to spread, so it’s wise to avoid working with even well-established plants while they’re wet. As a rule, we only deadhead at the zoo when the garden beds are dry in order to avoid inadvertently transmitting pathogens from one plant to another with our gloves or tools. This is also a good reason to avoid watering your plants at night, when they are unable to dry quickly under the sun.

The cool and comfortable weather of fall is a relief for us humans working outside, and the plants enjoy it too! There is still a fair amount of rain, but it isn’t excessive enough to waterlog the gardens. Cooler temperatures help to mitigate transplant shock. Plants purchased this time of year are bigger and stronger than spring seedlings (plus they’re usually sold at a discount so that nurseries don’t have to protect them over the winter). New fall plants still have several months to grow in the ground before they go dormant, and by the time the next spring arrives, they will have adapted to their new surroundings. Their roots are ready to absorb those persistent spring showers, which promotes vigorous growth and the ability to handle scorching summer heat with aplomb. Overall, the survival rate for big plants established in the fall is higher than those installed in the spring.

The upcoming months are full of opportunities to do amazing things with your landscape. You’ll be able to appreciate the immediate benefits of gardening, such as exercise and stress relief, while setting yourself up for success in the spring. Stay tuned for more information and tips for how to make the most of this enchanting time of year!

Written by Lindsay Friedenberg



Horticulture – The science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants.

Cover crop – a crop planted primarily to manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife.

Fauna – Animal life.

Deadhead – To remove a faded blossom on a flowering plant.

Pathogens – A specific causative agent (such as a bacterium or virus) of disease.

Transplant shock – The stress or damage received in the process of moving a plant from one location to another.

Seedling – A young plant grown from seed; a nursery plant not yet transplanted.

Dormant – Not actively growing but protected from the environment.

Leading the charge against deforestation

Technology from solar-powered recycled cell phones is making a positive difference in the fight against deforestation. 

Ever thought an old cell phone could help change the world?

It’s no secret that deforestation is destroying the rainforest. Deforestation, in its simplest definition, is the clearing of a wide area of trees. The deforestation that takes place in the rainforest is far more sinister, however, as it clears wide areas of land used as habitats and resources for native species, plants, and peoples. On average, an estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, and 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are a result of rainforest deforestation, according to WWF

How can we combat this?

Rainforest Connection Founder Topher White had the same question. A San Francisco-based engineer, White piloted a phone-based technology that’s changing the face of deforestation reversal. His solution was simple: Use recycled cell phones to listen closely to the rainforests for the sounds of destruction.

How is this possible?

Though it sounds simple, the process is actually quite complex. According to the organization’s website, Rainforest Connection (RFCx) creates acoustic monitoring systems for those who wish to end illegal deforestation in real-time. They do this by using solar power as a means of energy, hooking up an extra microphone, and listening closely. Because of the symphony of sounds happening naturally throughout the forest, abnormal sounds are difficult to pick out from the rest. The RFCx technology can distinguish the frequency of a chain saw, for example, and send an alert to authorities in order to determine whether the logging is legal or not. According to White, 50-90% of the logging done in the rainforest is unauthorized. This technology also works to detect the sounds of vehicles in the surrounding area that may be used for poaching activity.

So far, Rainforest Connection has monitored over 26,000 hectares of rainforest, which is approximately the equivalent of 26,000 football fields. To hear what they hear, download the app and listen to rainforests in real time! To support them further, consider making a financial donation to further their efforts of protecting tropical rainforests!

Living a Bird-Friendly Life

We see probably an average of 100 birds throughout our day, but how many of us truly take notice to these fantastic feathered friends? Birds play a crucial role in our ecosystem, so protecting them is important! While we may not all be natural born birdwatchers, there are easy steps we can take in everyday life in order to better protect our flying friends! 

Check out these three tips on how to live a more bird-friendly life:

keep your cats indoors

This is a big one, and one that many cat owners may not even think about. When cats are let outdoors, they become a non-native and invasive species, threatening birds and other wildlife, disrupting the natural ecosystem, and even potentially spreading disease. It is estimated that cats kill 2.4 million birds every year. Though it may seem harmless to let your cat outside for a bit of fresh air, such a simple choice can have a list of negative consequences. To keep both your cat and wild birds safer, opt for an enclosed outdoor space (often referred to as a “catio”), a harness for your cat, or increased indoor enrichment to keep them physically and mentally stimulated.

For more safe solutions for pet cats, check out the American Bird Conservancy’s page

Stop birds from hitting windows

Up to 1 billion birds die each year from hitting windows, and other glass reflective surfaces. That number is huge, and severely impactful on bird populations, but fortunately, this is one of the easiest problems to solve! By investing in products that break up the blank space of your window, you can greatly reduce the chances that a confused bird will fly into it! 

The American Bird Conservancy has tested a variety of bird-friendly window products so you don’t have to! Check out their full list here


purchase bird-friendly coffee

If you’re addicted to coffee, you’re not alone. Americans drink 1/3 of the world’s supply of coffee. While your morning cup of joe may be a necessity for you, choosing the right kind of coffee is a necessity for bird populations. Next time you’re in the supermarket shopping for coffee, look for certain kinds marked “shade-grown”. Traditional “sun coffee” might be a bit cheaper to buy, but this inexpensive variety takes a large toll on rainforest biodiversity (not to mention the rural families and small local businesses the industry bulldozes). Shade-grown coffee is not only a much healthier option for the birds, but  it also tastes much richer in your mug!

To learn more about the beneficial impacts of shade-grown coffee, please click here.

Info source: American Bird Conservancy

Written by Ali Chiavetta

Giraffes: A Species in Crisis

Take a drive along Harding Boulevard and you’re bound to see one or two inquisitive heads peering over the fence to inspect passers by. Elmwood Park Zoo’s giraffes, standing at over 15 feet tall, are some of the most recognizable animals in residence at Elmwood Park Zoo. Their iconic stature, friendly demeanors, and magnificent presence help solidify their status as a guest and staff favorite.

Now, Norristown’s most famous residents can be seen almost year round thanks to a brand new barn facility completed two summers ago.  But their counterparts in the wild aren’t always so well accommodated.

Once a species deemed of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), giraffe are now reclassified as one that is Vulnerable to extinction. Population surveys indicate that the giraffe population has decreased by almost 40 percent in the last 30 years. According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), it’s estimated that there are less than 100,000 giraffe remaining in the wild.

Why is this decline happening? The combined impacts of habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation, poaching, disease, war, and civil unrest are threatening the remaining giraffe numbers and their distribution throughout Africa. 

While conservation efforts are targeted internationally, U.S. zoos play an important role in the survival of the species. Together, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and the GCF created Operation Twiga, a conservation project to help protect Uganda’s Rothschild giraffe. Operation Twiga’s aim was to relocate 20 Rothschild giraffes to the southern bank of the Nile River to populate a new area within Murchison Falls National Park. The cost of the endeavor was estimated at $100,000. 

To fund the project, zoos across the country, including Elmwood Park Zoo, celebrated World Giraffe Day with events and fundraisers that encouraged donations to the GCF.  These fundraising efforts provided much needed financial support for Operation Twiga, which was conducted successfully in January 2016. 

“We are very happy to report that the giraffe on the southern side of the Nile River are doing well and we are planning to supplement the population later this year,” according to an update from the GCF. Since the success of Operation Twiga, GCF has developed a ‘road map’ to guide conservation activities throughout Africa with the hope to create a sustainable future for all giraffe populations. But those activities can come with a hefty price tag. The good news is that there are plenty of people to help foot the bill – about 700 million, to be exact.

According to the World Association for Zoos and Aquariums, about 1/10th of the world population visits zoos every year. Attendance at zoos across the country provides more than just a day of family fun. Funds accumulated from concessions, animal feedings, and admission help zoos like Elmwood Park Zoo give back to organizations that seek to conserve wildlife and its inhabitants, such as the GCF.

You don’t have to travel to East Africa to make a difference. When you stop by the zoo, and other AZA-accredited facilities, your membership or admission fees contribute to more than just an institution’s operating costs. You may think you’re just feeding a giraffe some lettuce. But you’re really supporting conservation and education efforts that have an impact long after your trip to the zoo is over.

So, will you stick your neck out for giraffe? To learn more about how you can get involved, or to donate directly to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, visit www.giraffeconservation.org.

Written by Kathryn Saulinas

Giraffes 750x300

At-risk teens get zoo day thanks to CEO who was once in their shoes

Story and photo courtesy of John McDevitt/KYW News Radio 1060

It was a day of fun, education and inspiration for a group of court-adjudicated teenagers who spent the day at the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown.

A group of about 20 students from Glen Mills Schools — a residential facility for court-adjudicated youth between 12 and 18 — got off the bus and spent the day exploring what the zoo has to offer.

Many of them have never been to a zoo before — let alone one that offers zip lining.

Successful business owner Lance Bachmann, president and CEO of tech firm 1SEO.com, sponsored the day because he was once in these teens’ shoes.

“I spent two years at Glen Mills — most people don’t know that,” he admitted. “So people are ashamed of that growing up as a kid. I always tell people I’m not ashamed of that at all. I had no control. I’m one of 14 children, grew up poor, single mother, abusive father — just not a good environment, and Glen Mills helped save my life.”

Bachmann told the kids to never let your past dictate your future — and he made his words a reality for one young student.

“One of you young students in this room are going to go to college for free next year,” he said to a surprised group. “I’m going to pay for the whole entire tuition.”

“Sometimes I feel that people can’t relate to what I’ve been through or going through right now,” said 17-year-old Corde Fitzhugh, “so it’s refreshing and heartfelt that someone who was actually in the shoes that I was in. And he is doing great and is giving me the hope that I can do the same thing — or even better.”

Fellow 17-year-old Semaj Richards was blown away by Bachmann’s generosity.

“I want to be that next man that actually do something for the youth that is actually going through what we went through,” he hoped.

Five Tips to Plan an Eco-Friendly Trip

The summer is winding down, but plenty of people still look to travel into the fall, especially for larger holidays like Labor Day weekend. While getting away from your day-to-day life can be fun, it’s important to remember how your plans will affect your planet! This is by no means a comprehensive list, but we’ve compiled five tips to plan a trip with less of a negative environmental impact. Check them out, and let us know if you have any tips you swear by when planning getaways! 

1. Location, location, location

The most exciting part of planning a trip is deciding where you’re going! When selecting a destination, take into consideration how far of a trip it will be, and what method of transportation you’ll need to get there. Look into the possibility of participating in eco-tourism for a more sustainable way of traveling! Companies like these offer trips to destinations around the world that prioritize sustainability in each of their trips. 

2. Getting from point A to point B

Once you decide on your destination, the logical next step is deciding how to get there! Is it possible to take a car or train, or is it necessary to use air travel? While convenient, flying isn’t the most eco-friendly method of transportation. A round-trip flight between New York and California can generate about 20% of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over the course of an entire year. If it’s necessary to fly, try booking nonstop flights, and look for more energy efficient airlines. 

3. New digs

The thing that can make or break your trip: your accommodations. Do your research before leaving to identify more sustainable hotels or housing. If possible, look for hotels and houses that are energy efficient, have proper waste management systems, recycle, and use alternate forms of energy (solar, hydroelectric, etc.). Bonus points if the home stay helps benefit the economy of the local community, especially on an eco-tour!  

4. Green guests

While on your trip, be a responsible guest! If you live an eco-friendly life at home, take that lifestyle on the road with you! No matter what the destination, be sure to respect the local environment. Leave nothing but footprints! Do your best to recycle, conserve water and energy resources, and look for activities that don’t have a heavy environmental impact.

5. Wish you were here

On your way out, you may be tempted to get souvenirs for your friends and family. Especially when traveling overseas, be sure that no mementos from your trip involve any endangered species (i.e.: animal hides, body parts, tortoise-shell, ivory, coral, etc.) These gifts are not only illegal, but also extremely damaging industries to support monetarily. Sometimes it’s best to just send a postcard! 

Sources: WWF, NY Times , Million Mile Secrets

Written by Ali Chiavetta

Elmwood Park Zoo Unveils New Website

Elmwood Park Zoo took the wrap off of their newly designed website today, revealing a fresh and modern design that is packed with new features and is responsive to mobile devices. Almost a year in the making, the new site was developed in conjunction with 1SEO.com, based in Philadelphia, PA. 

Elmwood Park Zoo also officially unveiled its new logo today. The icon of the jaguar surrounded by palm leaves is a modern take on the zoo’s old logo which was in use for several decades. The new logo was designed by The Archer Group, based in Wilmington, DE.

One of the most exciting features on the zoo’s new website is a web cam that offers visitors a live look at our giraffe and zebra exhibits. Sponsored by Xfinity, the camera gives website visitors a direct look at the zoo’s most popular residents, with the ability to control the camera positions and take snapshots that will save to their computers. The camera is one of several that the zoo hopes to add in the next few years. 

“Comcast is proud to sponsor the new web cam feature so that animal lovers around the world can check in on the giraffe and zebras at the Elmwood Park Zoo,” said Carolyne Hannan, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Comcast Freedom Region. “So many of our Xfinity Home customers enjoy using the service to see what their pets are up to while they’re not home –  we’re excited to provide a similar experience for fans of the Zoo.”

“We are extremely excited to share this new site with our guests,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “We are always looking to improve on our guest experience. When they visit our new website, we set the expectation for the quality and convenience that they can expect even before they set foot through our gates. And then once they are here, the site further enriches their experience with its functionality and ease-of-use.”

About 1SEO I.T. Support & Digital Marketing

1SEO I.T. Support & Digital Marketing is a Philadelphia, PA-based digital marketing firm and managed I.T. service provider offering end-to-end solutions for their clientele, which is comprised of hundreds of businesses in countless industries that operate in several sectors, from the niche to the mainstream. With a full range of services, including social media optimization, content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), web development, pay per click (PPC), proactive I.T. support, and managed I.T. services, 1SEO I.T. Support & Digital Marketing helps their clients win online and maximizes the efficiency and security of their I.T. infrastructure.

About The Archer Group

The Archer Group is the largest independently-owned digital agency in the Philadelphia region, serving a diverse client roster that runs the gamut from Fortune 500 corporations to local brands. Founded in 2003, it is home to the area’s brightest digital thinkers in a comprehensive range of disciplines spanning Brand and Creative Strategy, User Experience Design, Content, Technical Development, Digital Media, Analytics, and Social. For more information about Archer, visit archer-group.com.

About Elmwood Park Zoo

Established in 1924, the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown is home to dozens of wild and endangered species. As a non-profit organization, the Zoo’s mission is to foster an appreciation for wildlife and the environment that will inspire active participation in conservation.