T ucked into the evergreencovered, rolling north side of Cougar Mountain in Issaquah, Washington is a miniature, earthly "solar system" in the making. Seven Worlds of the system exist and more swirl as ideas awaiting substance. As in an astronomical system, the existing Worlds are being renewed and replenished, responding to strong forces. Instead of gravitational, electromagnetic and nuclear forces that influence atoms and planets, these Worlds are influenced by the forces of dedication to quality, education, and conservation.
Cougar Mountain Zoological Park ( CMZ) encompasses a little more than ten acres - a small but bright star in the constellation of Washington Zoos. It stands proudly among such world-class companions as Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, and Northwest Trek in Eatonville.
What is the Cougar Mountain Zoo and what makes it a special place?
ONE SMALL STEP
CMZ was founded in 1972 by Zoo Director Peter Rittler and Mammal Curator Marcie McCaffray. It was originally developed as an educational facility associated with the Cougar Mountain Academy, a private elementary school, also founded by Rittler in 1962. As the Zoo grew, it was opened to the public by arrangement. The Zoo quickly became so popular that it was opened free to the public and separated from the Academy, becoming a non-profit, 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt, charitable organization in 1987. In 1988, admission fees were established as part of the program to generate financial support for the Zoo. CMZ receives no public funds and is supported solely through admission and program
fees, membership fees from the Zoological Society of Washington, private sponsorship of benches, exhibits or animals ("adoptions"), participation in such programs as the Animal Tracks library, or engraved paving stones, and donations. In 2000, more than 60,000 people visited the CMZ.
From its conception, the CMZ was founded on a strong base of education. Rittler's philosophy on the function of zoos has become one of the CMZ's basic tenets: "The earth's wildlife as we know it today can only be saved through intensifying the teaching of individuals and nations the practical, aesthetic and emotional value wildlife represents. No wild animal belongs in captivity ... Zoo animals are instruments of the education process representing that last and vital frontier through which their wild brethren may be saved from extinction."
To achieve its goals for education and conservation, the CMZ is active in the Puget Sound community, especially the area known as the Eastside (East Puget Sound in King County) where Issaquah is located. Workshops, classes, tours, lectures and Outreach programs are conducted regularly for school children and staff as well as for members, volunteers, and visitors. Internships for college undergradu-
ates, or "externships" for graduates, designed to introduce students to the facets of Zoo operation, including medicine, animal husbandry, education, and administration, are offered. In addition, a catalog of classes, titled "Your Living Classroom" is available. The CMZ also has a program through which free admission tickets are provided to area schools. Over 30,000 of these tickets are provided every year.
In recognition of the CMZ's excellence as an educational resource and its value to the community the city of Issaquah granted the Zoo the official status of "Issaquah City Treasure" in 1997 and the Mayor declared the first week of July to be "Issaquah Zoo Week."
Excellence has also been recognized by such organizations as Mutual of Omaha's Wildlife Heritage Trust, which awarded CM"s Orphaned Cougar Cub exhibit as one of the best in 1993. The Mountain Lion, Large Macaw, and Lemur exhibits at CMZ are considered among the top three, and the Siberian Reindeer collection one of the largest, of any zoo in the United States.
ONE GIANT LEAP
At the time the Zoo was first developed, a common strategy of
zoos large and small seems to have been to collect as many different animal species as possible - described by Rittler as a "Noah's Ark" philosophy. CMZ also collected a large and varied number of animals. However, in 1996 the CMZ Master Plan's philosophy was revised in favor of maintaining a smaller, more focused collection, concentrating on endangered species.
By specializing in selected species, the Zoo could achieve a higher level of quality-of-life for the animals and meet its goals of education and conservation more effectively.
As some of the facilities are now about twenty-eight years old, it is time to modernize - to bring the concepts and goals of the Zoo into fresh perspective. New habitat, exhibit, and grounds designs incorporate the most current information available. They will further improve life at the Zoo for the animals, facilitating care and maintenance for the Zoo staff, and enhancing the educational experience and enjoyment of the visitors.
As each new facility is completed, the animals will be moved from their current exhibits into the new ones. They will be given a period of adjustment, then their old homes will be removed.
Although in a state of change, the animal collection Master Plan projects seven Worlds within CMZ, two of which are Avian Worlds.
World of Mountain Lions World of Reindeer World of Lemurs World of Cheetahs World of Antelope World of Cranes World of Large Macaws
And there are special places for the other birds and mammals which have been at the Zoo for a long time: Formosa Elk, Alpacas, Emus, and a variety of psittacines.
Come with Director Peter Rittler, Curator of Birds Laura Marshall, and me on a virtual tour of the Avian Worlds of the Cougar Mountain Zoo!
To find out more about the Cougar Mountain Zoological Park visit: