ZOOMG! 2013's top 10 stories of conservation, cuteness

Zoo celebrates year of victories and awww-inspiring moments

From cruller-sized pygmy rabbits to slam-dunking sea otters, 2013 was a big year for conservation, animal welfare and general adorableness at the Oregon Zoo. Here’s a look back at the year’s 10 most memorable zoo stories.

1. Eddie ups his game


When marine life keeper Jenny DeGroot trained sea otter Eddie to dunk a toy basketball for arthritis therapy, she didn't expect Oprah and Ellen's people to get in touch. A video about this behind-the-scenes elbow exercise went viral, clocking more than a million views and propelling Eddie to international stardom. (He's big in Japan.)

 


2. Mo learns to swim


River otter pup Molalla started taking swim lessons just four months after he was born, and the instructor — his mother, Tilly — didn't go easy on him. Mo's water trials made a big splash on YouTube, and offered a rare glimpse of this major milestone on a pup's journey to otterhood.

 


3. Neka has triplets


In September, African lion Neka gave birth to a trio of female cubs. The community followed closely as the runt of the litter, Kamali, struggled to keep up with her sisters. Four months and a few pounds later, all three cubs are doing well and getting daily lessons in how to be a lion.


4. Homes found for 9 cougar orphans — and the Cougarciser


As species coordinator for cougars, the zoo's Michelle Schireman has placed more than 90 orphaned cougars in AZA-accredited zoos. This year she found homes for another nine cubs that would not have survived in the wild. In August, Michelle also unveiled the "Cougarciser," an enrichment device designed to bring out the explosive predatory instincts of the zoo's own orphaned cougars, Paiute and Chinook.


5. Rare bumblebee found on Mt. Hood


August brought positive buzz for bees with the discovery of a rare western bumblebee population on Mount Hood. A Xerces Society survey, supported by the Oregon Zoo Foundation's Future for Wildlife program, will help protect this rare and important pollinator, which mysteriously vanished from much of its range during the mid-1990s.


6. Bald eagle, unleaded


After more than three months of intense treatment, a bald eagle in the care of the Audubon Society of Portland made a full recovery from severe lead poisoning and was released in southwest Washington. The eagle was one of many raptors tested for lead as part of a zoo-supported study aimed at reducing lead poisoning in Oregon wildlife.


7. Polar bear neckwear


In July, female polar bear Tasul helped scientists tackle a climate change mystery by wearing a high-tech collar to track her movements. Because polar bears are extremely difficult to study in the wild, Tasul offered researchers a rare opportunity to investigate how these mega-predators are responding to the retreat of sea ice.

 


8. Pygmy rabbit romance and panda passion


Coaxing endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits into "breeding like rabbits" has never been a simple task. But a research breakthrough at the Oregon Zoo may have revealed the secret to pygmy rabbit chemistry. These findings could also advance breeding programs for the world's most famous endangered species: the giant panda.


9. Half-pint to half-ton: Lily's first year


She was born big — with an outsize personality to match — and she's had a big impact on the Oregon Zoo's world-famous Asian elephant herd and visitors alike. Lily, the zoo's youngest elephant, turned a year old on Nov. 30. She is described as a "spitfire" by zoo animal-care staff, who say she has energized the rest of the herd.

 


10. Superfrog study advances amphibian recovery


Invasive bullfrogs have managed to outcompete — and gobble up — every Oregon spotted frog population they've encountered, except for the one at Conboy Lake. A zoo investigation into the secrets of this "bullfrog-proof" population is helping conservationists devise more successful captive rearing programs, and stave off the extinction of this rare Northwest amphibian.