Zoo Blog - Blank Park Zoo

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Zoo Blog

Find out about the animals, events, behind the scenes information and more from the staff of Blank Park Zoo.

Wild Asia: Journey to Save the Tiger

Posted on Mar 18, 2014 at 2:25 PM

Tigers are an incredibly powerful and majestic creature. This species, specifically the Amur (or Siberian) tiger, is under threat in this rapidly changing world.

Join Blank Park Zoo as we welcome Dr. Jonathan Slaght, Project Manager for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia Program, as he addresses the work the organization is doing to protect this animal. Dr. Slaght manages a research project that measures the impact of poachers on the Amur tiger. Poachers seek and kill the tiger for its stunning pelt, bones and other body parts, many of which are used as ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines.

The Russia Program looks at road closures and their impact on the access that poachers have to these animals. In 1920, there were an estimated 100,000 tigers in the wild. Today, their numbers hover in the low thousands, with only about 400 Amur tigers remaining. Dr. Slaght is also working to improve the scientific quality of wide-range surveys, which are used to find estimates of tigers remaining in the wild.

Dr. Jonathan Slaght has been traveling to Russia since 1992—when he was just 15 years old—and to the province Primorye in the Russian Far East since 1995. He has been involved in Amur tiger conservation in Russia since 2002. In addition to his work with tiger conservation, Dr. Slaght is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Blakiston’s fish owl, an endangered species endemic to northeast Asia.

Dr. Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society

Learn how Dr. Slaght and his organization are using camera monitoring and rehabilitation to protect and save the Amur tiger at Blank Park Zoo Thursday, April 3, 2014 as part of our Wild Asia Conservation Series.

The Wild Asia: Journey to Save the Amur Tiger event will include cocktails and appetizers, time to visit our Discovery Center exhibit and chat with Dr. Slaght.

Seating is limited - click here to purchase your tickets today!

March 14 is Learn about Butterflies Day!

Posted on Mar 11, 2014 at 10:49 AM

At Blank Park Zoo, we believe that our native pollinators, such as butterflies, not only provide an economic and practical value to humans, but they also have intrinsic value in their own right. That’s why we are on a mission to encourage citizens and organizations to become aware of pollinator issues and to take action to preserve them. We believe that no effort is too small and that each of us can help make a difference to protect the biodiversity around us.

Many pollinator species are declining due to a variety of reasons, including global climate change, loss of habitat and feeding resources, and some modern agricultural practices. For example, butterflies require large corridors of suitable habitat to navigate between nectar sources, and our increasing rates of development and expanding networks of roads have presented them with formidable challenges. According to Monarch Watch, butterflies lose habitat areas equivalent to the size of Illinois every 16 years – that’s an average of 2.2 million acres lost per year!

Many of Iowa’s native butterflies are listed as special concern, threatened, and endangered. The Baltimore checkerspot, Common ringlet, and Purplish copper are just three species considered as high priority for conservation need in Iowa. 

Baltimore Checkerspot

Common Ringlet

Purplish Copper

Butterflies require not only connecting, high-quality swaths of habitat, but also specific types of plants that help them to feed and reproduce. Each species of butterfly has specific sets of needs these plants must meet to be used. In Iowa, the majority of our butterflies need region-specific, grassland plants.  However, these plants are just as threatened as the butterflies they help – since European settlement, Iowa has lost more than 99.9 percent of its native, tall-grass prairie. Iowa butterflies and the habitats in which they live need our help.

How can you help? Starting in the spring of 2014, you can join Plant.Grow.Fly. by creating a much-needed pollinator habitat at your home, school or even place of work. Our expertly researched garden recipes will help you plant flowers and grasses that benefit local species the most. Our easy-to-follow recipes can be formed to your landscaping needs, from pet-friendly to sweet-smelling, low-budget to no expenses spared. Gardens can range from several plants in a pot to a whole backyard ecosystem. Once you register your garden with Blank Park Zoo, you can order a Plant.Grow.Fly. sign to proudly display in your new habitat, showing your support of our Midwestern pollinators.

I think we can all agree that the current decline of butterflies and bees is alarming. Our project aims to focus on the positive: each and every one of us can do our part to preserve these beautiful creatures by simply planting flowers in our yard! More to come on how to join Plant.Grow.Fly. this spring.

Summer Safari registration is now open!

Posted on Mar 4, 2014 at 11:33 AM


Registration for Summer Safari is now open! 

Summer Safari is a week-long immersion in Zoo education. With camps for ages 3 to 7th grade, the Zoo provides a unique learning experience for children to:

  • Learn about and encounter firsthand exotic wildlife,
  • Understand the science of these creatures’ habits and how the Zoo cares for them,
  • Make the connection to the conservation and protection of these animals, and
  • Care for the conservation of our environment. 


Exploring and meeting a Zoo aldabra tortoise up close


Taking a break from making crafts

Summer Safari camps are discounted for Zoo members. Learn more about the opportunities for your child to explore at the Zoo this summer and register today!


Camp tour of the Zoo



Experience Kids Kingdom

Posted on Feb 25, 2014 at 2:33 PM

Kids Kingdom is often a crowd favorite at Blank Park Zoo since this is where visitors can find animals to feed and greet! The area has animals that you might see on a regular basis here in Iowa. While visiting this specific area of the Zoo you can find a variety of goats, a pair of llamas, pigs, a donkey and Zebu. It is a must for visitors to take a look behind the playground for the Koi deck where they can feed the Koi fish. This area is special because it allows visitors to interact with the animals – you get to feed and pet them all!

Due to the extreme cold and ice this winter, many of the animals have been kept inside the barns all winter; the donkey and Zebu areas especially! We have Iowa weather to thank for that! If the temperature does reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the goat barn is open and the public is given access to feed the goats and llamas.  If you stop by the Zoo on the weekend or a holiday (and it is at least 40 degrees), look for a sign inviting you into the goat barn!

Another component of this area is the playground. Once the area thaws, the playground will be open for kids of all ages to enjoy and climb on plus the animals will be out for visitors to interact with. New to Kids Kingdom this past year is the goat bridge! This has been a nice addition to the area and the goats absolutely love it. Often times after Kids Kingdom is closed for the day, the goats enjoy lying at the top and looking out into the Zoo. The goats also enjoy running across the bridge as a group!

The Zoo staff that specializes in the Kids Kingdom area is currently prepping for the spring and taking care of all the animals on a daily basis. As you can imagine, our Zoo animals are getting antsy for the time of year that they can be outside and enjoy the warm weather every day!


Conservation from Des Moines to Uganda!

Posted on Feb 18, 2014 at 4:51 PM

Conservation is everywhere! Blank Park Zoo invites you to be part of our journey to save the red panda, tiger and snow leopard. As you may know, Asia encompasses millions of miles of diverse and unique landscapes. From rainforests to deserts, it is home to some of the world's most iconic species, but these species are under threat in this rapidly changing world. The first one kicks off right here on Thursday, March 6 at 6:00 pm.


Nancy Whelan is our first speaker of the series. Nancy is a member of the Board of Directors for Red Panda Network. In 2013, she created the Red Panda Network Art Contest, inviting kids around the world to pick up their paintbrushes and answer the question: "Why should we save red pandas?" She will share with us the mission of the Red Panda Network, working to save this rare and beautiful animal through education and empowering local communities.

To purchase tickets click here


Conservation also exists in Uganda. The forests of Western Uganda are beautiful places. They are the home to the densest primate population in Africa and a host of other mammals, birds and reptiles.  These forests are also, very important to the human populations who are living and raising their families there.  The constant need for firewood has been a strain on forests in Uganda and around the world.

The New Nature Foundation is on the front lines of protecting the rainforest, working with people to increase energy efficiency in sustainable, replicable ways. Founders of the Foundation, Rebecca Goldstone and Michael Stern, traveled to Des Moines in July of 2013 and attended the Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation (ZACC) Conference hosted by Blank Park Zoo. Their presentation educated the attendees on their program and the use of fuel efficient stoves. These stoves (which cost less than $2) are having a positive impact on the forests of Western Uganda and elsewhere. Families using fuel efficient stoves use 40% less fuel (forest trees) than those using traditional stoves.

In a recent update from Rebecca, we have learned that some of the items donated by Blank Park Zoo at the ZACC Conference found their way to Uganda! Each December, the New Nature Foundation sponsors a "fuel efficient stove bean cook off". Think “chili cook off” here in Iowa. One of the winners' prize packages included a Blank Park Zoo t-shirt and another included a Blank Park Zoo bag which held other prizes.   For more information on the work of the New Nature Foundation go to their website: www.newnaturefoundation.org.



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