2014's top 10 stories of conservation, cuteness

December 22, 2014 - 11:05am

Zoo celebrates year of victories for wildlife and awww-inspiring moments

From grouchy lions to tiny bear cubs, 2014 was a big year for conservation, animal welfare and general adorableness at the Oregon Zoo. Here's a look back at this year's 10 most memorable zoo stories.

1. 'Grumpy cat' Zawadi goes out with cubs

He's a 500-pound mega-carnivore capable of pulling a buffalo to the ground, but Zawadi Mungu started playing a new role in 2014: cat toy. In March, the male lion ventured outside with his trio of energetic cubs for the first time, and demonstrated a surprising tolerance for a flurry of pint-sized attacks on his mane, tail and patience. He also became the latest internet cat celebrity — a video of his outing with the cubs has logged more than 2.8 million views on the zoo's YouTube channel.

2. Playful sea otter pup Juno arrives

Geriatric sea otters Thelma and Eddie made an energetic new friend this summer with the arrival of Juno, an abandoned sea otter pup found on a California beach in January. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Research and Conservation program arranged for Juno's rescue, but — with no experienced adult otters available to rear her — the pup was deemed nonreleasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The playful pup has had a rejuvenating effect on old-timers Thelma and Eddie. (Eddie became an internet celeb last year, when animal-care staff trained the aging otter to dunk a toy basketball as therapy for his arthritic elbow joints.)

3. Portland 'reaches' for wildlife-friendly palm oil

In August, the zoo launched its Use Your Reach campaign, inspiring the community to send more than 3,000 messages to companies, urging them to pursue no-deforestation palm oil. On National Coffee Day, Sept. 29, the zoo teamed up with the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium to storm social media with coffee selfies in honor of Starbucks' recent palm oil commitment. Earlier in the year, 10-year-old zoo fan Landon Clark made headlines when he made a donation to the Oregon Zoo to protect orangutans, having been inspired by 52-year-old orangutan Inji.

4. Zoo joins 96 Elephants campaign

In December, the Oregon Zoo Foundation provided $10,000 for the 96 Elephants campaign to support park guards, intelligence networks, and government operations in protected areas for elephants throughout the Congo Basin and East Africa. Named for the number of elephants poached daily in 2012, the campaign aims to end the sale of ivory in the United States, which conservationists believe is a key step in decreasing demand for the trade that kills elephants for their tusks. (Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/ Wildlife Conservation Society.)

5. Zoo helps orphaned cougar, bear cubs

The Oregon Zoo veterinary medical center felt a bit like a nursery in February, with two sets of triplets receiving round-the-clock feedings and quite a bit of cooing from the zoo's animal-care staff. State wildlife officials brought three orphaned cougar cubs and three orphaned bear cubs to the zoo, where zoo staff cared for them until they were healthy enough to travel to new homes in North Carolina and Texas.

6. River otter Ziggy learns to swim

Human parents often noted that their second child is much more independent — and such was indeed the case with river otter Tilly and her second pup, Ziggy, who debuted at the zoo in January. Ziggy's older brother, Mo, made a big splash with otter fans last year when a video showing his rough-and-tumble swim lessons went viral, logging more than 700,000 views on the zoo's YouTube channel. Ziggy too was taught to swim, offering a rare look at a major milestone on a pup's journey to otterhood.

7. Condor habitat opens | Six chicks hatch

After more than 100 years, California condors returned to Portland in May when three of the enormous birds moved into the zoo's new Condors of the Columbia habitat. The new exhibit — the fourth of eight major projects funded by a community-supported 2008 bond measure — lets visitors enjoy up-close looks at these colorful, charismatic and critically endangered birds, and learn about the threats they face. Meanwhile, at the zoo's Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, six condor chicks hatched. At this point, each new arrival is vitally important to the survival of this species, struggling to make its way back from the brink of extinction.

8. Keepers raise $75K to save species

This month, Oregon Zoo keepers presented the Audubon Society of Portland with a check for $14,000 raised during this fall's comedy night event, where they also raised $14,000 for Tanzania-based Ruaha Carnivore Project. 2014 was a hugely successful year for Oregon Zoo keeper staff, who — in their spare time — also raised $47,000 for rhino conservation during June's Bowling for Rhinos event. (Photo by Tinsley Hunsdorfer.)

9. Fuzzy, feisty lion cubs born

On Sept. 8, a year and a day after Neka's cubs were born, African lion Kya gave birth to her own set of cubs. At first they looked like fuzzy, spotted plush toys, so cute you'd like to hold them close and cuddle — but even at 3 weeks old, these cubs were already feisty, and by the time they first ventured outside, they were already practicing the skills that will make them among the most fearsome predators on the planet.

10. Tiny but spiny hedgehog babies

Hakuna Matata, an African pygmy hedgehog at the Oregon Zoo, gave birth to a litter of five on July 7. The tiny, spiny hoglets weighed just a tenth of a pound each, and when curled up in a ball they were about the size of a doughnut hole.