From the Tacoma History Project: Wildlife Conservation at Point Defiance Zoo

Interview and Project By Kyle Chapman; blog post written by Erika Wigren.

The passenger pigeon no longer exists even though it was so numerous, possibly the most numerous we’ve ever had in our part of the world. So it’s very real, extinction is real no matter how many numbers we’re starting with. I think stories like that are what help inspire people to want to do something to change things for the better.” – Alicia Pike

In this interview for the Tacoma Community History Project, Alicia Pike (now Alicia Chapman) discusses her work as full-time keeper at Point Defiance Park and as the Tacoma chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK).  Pike, who assisted in providing significant insight into the last 20 years of conservation efforts in Tacoma, discusses the role of zoos and volunteer groups for the promotion and successful implementation of conservation efforts.

Point Defiance Park Zookeeper Alicia Pike.

At Point Defiance, Pike assists in the care, breeding, and maintenance of the Sumatran tigers, lowland Anoa, small-clawed otters, and clouded leopards as well as the care for other endangered species at the zoo.

In this project, she explains the work zoos have done in saving or reviving endangered species. One example being captive-bred population of red wolves established in the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium between 1974 and 1980, leading to a rise in the red wolf population.

“There have actually been a number of different species that only exist today on Earth because they have in a captive breeding program in zoos. A lot of those species have been extinct in the wild and only exist in the wild now because of breeding programs. A good example of that with Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is the red wolves.”

The success, Pike states, is because of work like the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and zoos that supported it.

“The evidence seems to suggest that a lot of that change was mostly because of zoos at the time. They were the one and only place that most people would actually get to see these animals that rather than a T.V. program. There was no internet. So it really was the one place that people got see these strange animals without having to go and seek information the hard way. So the focus started shifting. People were afraid of a lot of the species that they aren’t afraid of now.”

Pike continues on to discuss the efforts of Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and other conservation work Pike has seen in the zoological field as an active member of AAZK for over a decade. In addition, she explains her work in altering people’s perceptions and understandings of animals and their nature.

Photo Courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

“Some people are afraid of animals. I’ve actually had an experience where there was a little girl crying in the aquarium and her mom didn’t know what to do. I asked if she was ok, thinking maybe she had tripped or something and I just found out she was terrified of the sharks. So I ended up telling her stories about the individual sharks, how she can relate to them and it calmed her down enough to where she was interested into going to see which individual sharks I was telling these stories about.”

As both an active member and president of Point Defiance AAZK, Pike has helped organize and lead several local conservation efforts that work directly with members of the local Tacoma community and the relation between these organizations and Tacoma, describing Tacoma’s general receptiveness to the work of conservation efforts and citizen scientists.
“She explained that the focus of her work has been to provide people with an understanding of animals, “without trying to glorify them or make them out to be more than what they are.”

In September, Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium opened the doors to its $51.6 million project – a four year design to bring to life the new 35,000-square-foot aquarium. The addiction was the largest capital project in the zoo’s 113-year history. Read more about the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

You can view the full project Alicia Pike, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, and Point Defiance AAZK: Wildlife Conservation in Tacoma.


The Tacoma Community History Project is a growing oral history collection. The projects are created by UW Tacoma students under the supervision of Professor Michael K. Honey and in partnership with the UWT Library. Click to learn more about the Tacoma Community History Project.

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