Make all the jokes you want. The Woodland Park Zoo doesn’t care.
It’s so proud of its animal waste — known around these parts as “Zoo Doo” — that it held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday for its newly modernized compost facility. (Actually, it wasn’t ribbon, but a string of vines tied together, in keeping with the composting theme).
They’re calling it “the feces of the future.”
The improvements to the Zoo Doo yard include 8-foot-tall concrete bunkers, which will hold larger piles of poo in less space; and an automated aeration and temperature-control technology that will cut down compost processing times from about six months to just 60 days.
There are also plans to diversify the mix of the stuff. Previously, the Zoo only composted the waste and bedding from non-primate herbivores — plant-eating animals such as rhinos, giraffes, gazelles, hippos and zebras.
In doo time (sorry), though, they’ll be cutting carnivores and primates in on the action, collecting the waste and bedding of gorillas, tigers, lemurs and mountain goats. In total, 26 species and 100 individual animals will be pooping with purpose, and upping the current 625 tons of waste by about 30 percent.
“They’re excited,” said Kaitlyn Welzen, the Zoo’s recycling and compost coordinator. “They’ll contribute quite a lot.”
But first, they will ensure there is no smell, lest it ruin the weddings that are regularly held in the adjacent Rose Garden, or overwhelm the drivers wholeave their windows open while they pass along Highway 99.
“Carnivore and primate waste is ridiculously smelly,” Welzen said. “It smells like you would not believe. You think dog poop is bad? Tiger poop is way worse.”
There are also quality issues to consider. The carbon/nitrogen ratio. And Public Health — Seattle & King County will have to make sure it’s safe for people to spread carnivore poop on their plants.
For 34 years, people have been clamoring for this “gardening gold,” and the Zoo has responded, producing 750 cubic yards of Zoo Doo a year. In the process, it saves itself over $75,000 in annual disposal costs.
“It’s the envy of all gardeners in the region,” said Zoo CEO Alejandro Grajal.
On Monday, the Zoo kicks off its biannual “Fecal Fest,” when people enter a lottery for the chance to purchase large quantities of Zoo Doo — up to an 8-by-4-foot truckload.
“New homeowners, college students, grandmas who have been getting it for 30 years,” Welzen said of the entrants. “Gardeners love it because it does amazing things for plants. What it comes down to is, it builds soil. Good soil, with bacteria and organic matter.”
Last year, 600 people entered the lottery, and just under 300 got the chance to load up. The rest were left to purchase Zoo Doo at the Zoo Store or online in 12-pound, 2-gallon buckets for $20; and pint containers for $4.95. (The money goes toward the Zoo’s conservation programs and animal care.)
After the ribbon — uh, vine-cutting — a group of day-camp kids scrambled over to the eight-foot pile of Zoo Doo, grabbed some plastic shovels and packed some buckets for the cameras.
“I am the pooper-scooper at my house,” said a nonplussed Holiday Anderson, 10. “Because I have cats and my cats poop.”
“It wasn’t that gross,” said Ruby Leslie, 9. “It didn’t even smell. It just looked like dirt and people touched it with their hands and said it felt like dirt.”
So cool were these campers that they were headed off to eat lunch right after.
Zookeeper Norah Farmham works in the African Savannas.
“Hippos, mostly,” she said, adding that “the girls” have been Zoo Doo donors for years.
“They were the biggest donors,” she said, “before the rhinos came along.”