Elephant Care, Action, and Beyond!
by | June 17th, 2016
Protected Contact training with target poles. Photo Gina Kinzley.

Protected Contact training with target poles. Photo Gina Kinzley.

Here at the Oakland Zoo we have a strong belief and value system when it comes to animal welfare. We do everything we can to provide our animals with what they need, including space with the appropriate substrates, social dynamics, as well as enrichment and training for both physical and mental stimuli. Everything we do takes into consideration the health and well-being of the animal as well as the safety of the keeper. Wild animals can be dangerous and in no way should be treated like a pet. We work with them in a protected contact type of management to ensure our safety and theirs. You might be thinking why does the animal need to be safe? Aren’t you the one in danger? The answer is yes. I am in danger should I walk into an enclosure and right up to an animal, but for me to be able to do that involves punishment toward the animal. If you have been to a circus before you have seen all the different animals they work with up-close and personal. This is not because the animals enjoy being in the circus and close to their handlers; this is because the animals are forced and mistreated to behave as asked.

Since I am an elephant keeper, let’s talk about elephants specifically. Working with the largest land mammal on earth is a challenge. People

Donna, mudding in the grassy meadow on a rainy day. Photo Gina Kinzley.

Donna, mudding in the grassy meadow on a rainy day. Photo Gina Kinzley.

think they are gentle giants but more often they are and always have the potential to be extremely dangerous. For decades these intelligent creatures have had to put up with being in the circus where their handlers have abused them into submission, beating them with what is called an “ankus” or “bullhook”. When you see the handlers inside the enclosure working directly with the elephant, this is called free contact. This management relies on negative reinforcement and punishment. The ankus, similar in look to a fireplace poker, was and is specifically designed to cause pain, and for the elephant to move away from the two sharp points of the hook. When an elephant does not comply with the asked behavior the pressure of the sharp points is increased, which often times leads to striking and clubbing with the hook. Twenty five years ago an alternative system was created.

IMG_2425In California, bullhooks are not used at any zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or at the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary. Instead, this alternate system is called Protected Contact. This style uses positive reinforcement, and trainers are always protected by a barrier whether it be spatial or with fencing. When we ask our elephants to do something they are reinforced with food treats and praise. This keeps us and the elephants safe. When we are training we stand outside the fence line and use target poles, which are a long piece of bamboo or rake handle with a soft tip, to target a part of the body that we need. The keepers or trainers are not dominant over the elephant, and if the elephant chooses not to participate then they have the choice to walk away from the session. Fortunately elephants are extremely food motivated and using their healthy diet they are willing to help the trainers with the care they need. Under Oakland Zoo’s management, the elephants at Tembo Preserve (http://www.tembopreserve.org/index.html) will be trained using the same management style. The Preserve will provide three heated elephant barns of approximately 26,000 square feet each, which will include various protected contact walls, with the first phase including one barn that can service up to 12 elephants, providing shelter from cold weather and facilities for veterinary care and basic husbandry training. Also, throughout the vast and spacious habitat, these training walls will be available to be able to access the elephants at a distance from the main barn when needed.  Most of our training is for husbandry and health purposes, but we do fun stuff as well such as catching a

Donna, playing with a tire for fun. Photo Gina Kinzley.

Donna, playing with a tire for fun. Photo Gina Kinzley.

stick in the trunk or picking up an object when thrown. Fun stuff is okay as long as it is not strenuous on the elephants. A lot of the behaviors you might see in the circus such as legs stands are taxing on the joints and in the long term can cause arthritis. Although rarely observed in the wild to reach a branch or dig up a root, elephants are not meant to do these behaviors repetitively every day. At our facility we can accomplish anything we train, such as foot care, blood draws, ultrasounds, and beyond. I would rather see an elephant out on 6.5 acres grazing and browsing and interacting freely with one another, than standing next to me in fear, wearing some silly outfit, chained and confined in box cars and parking lots and performing tricks for profit. So, please support the Oakland Zoo and let elephants be elephants! Don’t go to the circus, the cruelest show on earth! Support your local non-animal circus’ such as Teatro Zinzanni and Cirque de Soleil.

SB 1062 team. From left to right, Ed Stewart, Gina Kinzley, Jennifer Fearing, Catherine Doyle, Dr. Joel Parrott.

SB 1062 team. From left to right, Ed Stewart, Gina Kinzley, Jennifer Fearing, Catherine Doyle, Dr. Joel Parrott.

SB 1062, a California bill which would ban the use of the bullhook would be the first of it’s kind. Oakland Zoo, along with Performing Animal Welfare Society, and Humane Society of the United States are working to pass this bill. Public opinion regarding the use and treatment of captive elephants is rapidly evolving in the direction of increasing protection for them. The cities of Los Angeles and Oakland have prohibited the use of bullhooks, and San Francisco has banned the use of elephants, among other animals, in performances of any kind. Numerous other jurisdictions across California and the U.S. have similar restrictions in place and more are considering such actions. Today, no county fair in California offers elephant rides (run by operators who use bullhooks), in response to community concerns about animal welfare and public safety. Even Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus has ended their elephant acts and their last show with elephants was in May 2016. California is poised to become the first state

Osh browsing. Photo Gina Kinzley.

Osh browsing. Photo Gina Kinzley.

in the nation to end the abusive treatment of elephants caused by the use of outdated and inhumane bullhooks. SB 1062 would effectively protect elephants, while sending a strong message to the rest of the country that cruelty to elephants must not be tolerated. SB 1062 has already passed the Senate and will be heard on Tuesday, June 14th in the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee. Stay tuned on Oakland Zoo’s Facebook page for updates on the bills progress. Here’s detailed info about the bill: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_1062&sess=CUR&house=B&author=lara_<lara>.

 

Cynthia Moss, founder of Amboseli Trust for Elephants, at the 20th Annual Oakland Zoo Celebrating Elephants.

Cynthia Moss, founder of Amboseli Trust for Elephants, at the 20th Annual Oakland Zoo Celebrating Elephants.

A huge thank you to those of you that attended our Annual Celebrating Elephants Fundraiser. We have raised more than 300,000 dollars over the past twenty years and all of the proceeds go toward world renowned elephant researcher Cynthia Moss’ Amboseli Trust for Elephants, protecting African Elephants through conservation and research. We had the privilege of having Cynthia herself as our guest speaker at the silent auction and lecture. She gave us an update on the thriving Amboseli population of elephants and the research ATE is currently working on. The house was packed with the most people we have ever had attend and we had a record breaking year, raising over $50,000.

 

 

Snared! How
by | June 13th, 2016

In the Budongo Forests of Uganda, a large group of chimpanzees attempt to thrive in their natural habitat, eating plants and small prey. At the same time, humans who live around the forest are also trying to survive, working at places like the local sugarcane plantation and living in straw and mud houses. For food, they set out into the forest with small snares and aim for duiker and pig.

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Most of these snares are made from wire. As chimpanzees walk through the forest, their hands or feet may become trapped in the snare. In two of the forests where chimpanzees are studied, researchers have observed up to thirty percent of chimpanzees are maimed due to snare injuries. More die.

This problem is typical all over the world. How do elephants and people live together, or mountain lions and the people of the Bay Area? Though solutions seem impossible at times, we are inspired by the imagination behind the Budongo Snare Removal Project.

In January 2000, the Jane Goodall Institute in collaboration with the Budongo Forest Project initiated a snare removal program in the Budongo Forest Reserve. The objective was to reduce the number of snares set, reduce the number of animals caught in snares and traps, and increase the number of local people who obey wildlife laws and understand the need for protecting wildlife.

Teams of two men locate and remove snares. After the first year of operation, they found that the number of snares being set within the grid Wire snare cherie 2system of the research area dropped.

An education center reaches out to the local community and provides education around ecology, wildlife and the treasure that is the chimpanzees. A nanny goat program rounds out the project, offering ex-poachers an opportunity to raise milk, meat and money for their families in exchange for a promise to cease the use of snares.

Oakland Zoo adopted this project in 2001 and the support covers the salaries for four field assistants, two educators, two eco-guards, the nanny goat program and allowances for transportation, bike repair, gum boots, rain gear, backpacks, and compasses. The zoo is the only supporter of this project. We are proud of its compassion and respect for both animals, people and the entire ecosystem.

Please help these chimpanzee and join us for our annual Discovering Primates Gala on September 24th for delicious snacks, drinks, an exciting silent auction and special guest.

 

How you can help wild giraffe in Kenya
by | May 19th, 2016

When I ask people what they think a giraffe keeper does every day, a wide variety of tasks often come to mind. Harvesting branches, training, and of course, cleaning poop, are typically the top answers. The one thing that most people do not consider however, is being an advocate for wild giraffe in Africa. As our society has begun to move away from the notion that animals in the care of humans are meant to be entertainment, we have started understanding and utilizing our roles to help fight against the devastating loss of natural environments and their inhabitants. I recently returned from the International Giraffid Conference in Chicago, Illinois, and was fortune enough to meet some of the leading individuals who are speaking out for the wild giraffe population and doing ground breaking work in Africa.

John Doherty, keynote speaker at the 2016 International Giraffid Conference, and head of the Reticulated Giraffe Project in Kenya

John Doherty, keynote speaker at the 2016 International Giraffid Conference, and head of the Reticulated Giraffe Project in Kenya

Most people do not know but there are actually 9 subspecies of giraffe in Africa spread across 14 different countries. All subspecies are declining at different rates. This is mainly due to the variety of causes for each group. The most studied subspecies of giraffe are those that live in developed areas. Some areas where giraffe live are far too dangerous for humans to go, and most of them do not even have roads to get to the population themselves. The reticulated giraffe, the subspecies that Oakland Zoo and over 100 other AZA institutions hold, has seen a dramatic 77% decline in 17 years. Issues facing these giraffe in particular are predation by lions, livestock occupying land, human access to automatic weapons, and drought.

Me with Jacob and John of the Reticulated Giraffe Project

Me with Jacob and John of the Reticulated Giraffe Project

John Doherty and Jacob Leaidura of the Reticulated Giraffe Project in Kenya are working to combat many of the issues facing this subspecies. By providing their rangers with solar powered chargers, they are able to keep their devices up and running when they are out in the bush. This way they can transmit in real time giraffe sightings or emergency situations. They work closely with the children in surrounding villages to educate and build pride for these special animals, helping to create the next generation of conservationists who will keep a watchful eye over their country’s’ natural inhabitant. The most notable work John and Jacob have done is create a way to track populations of giraffe using telemetry that will not require the animal to be anesthetized in any way, avoiding unnecessary stress. To this day, adhering a tracking device to wild giraffe can be incredibly dangerous and terrifying for the animal, so the advancement in the RGP’s development is essential for the future of giraffe research.

Oakland Zoo is celebrating World Giraffe Day this year on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. All the proceeds from this event will go to support the Reticulated Giraffe Projects work in Kenya. Guests can get a chance to meet and feed our giraffes, up close and personal. Tickets for feeding the giraffes can be purchased online at Eventbrite. A limited amount of tickets will also be available day-of at the giraffe exhibit in the zoo. Activity tables, face painting, and informational stations will be set up around the exhibit for guests to enjoy. Please come out and support the wild giraffe in Kenya! I hope to see you there!

Feeding at World Giraffe Day 2015

Feeding at World Giraffe Day 2015

Oakland Zoo’s 20th Annual Celebrating Elephants Event is Coming Soon . . . . Help Celebrate twenty years of Action for Elephants- fundraising for conservation, champions of welfare, and campaigning for protective legislation.
by | May 3rd, 2016
Cynthia Moss, ATE Founder and Director, in the field with Echo.

Cynthia Moss, ATE Founder and Director, in the field with Echo.

May is one of my favorite times of the year. Why? Because we have two full days of celebrating elephants! Not that I don’t celebrate elephants everyday that I work with them, but these two days are unique because we get to meet thousands of visitors and teach them about elephants from how we care for them, where they sleep, what they eat, and the perils they face in the wild. The elephant barn staff spends weeks prepping for this event, cleaning every square inch of the barn and surrounding facility, as well as the 6.5 acres of elephant habitat. We also assist in the zoo wide set-up, helping set up interactive stations allover the zoo, making this a fun and exciting day for our guests. And of course, we are your super stars (besides the elephants!), and will be giving special tours explaining everything elephant. This year you’ll see Jeff, Ashley, Jessica, and Zach and they’ll answer any questions you may have. I am especially excited this year for our evening gala, featuring Cynthia Moss, founder of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. The evening gala team is composed of a small group who are very dedicated and work hard to secure donations and set-up every tiny detail in the Zimmer Auditorium from the tables, to the lights, to the food! We work hard because we know it’s our job as conservationists to help educate our visitors, and to raise funds to directly help our conservation partners. Please, we hope you will join us for the day or the evening, or maybe both, and remember that all proceeds go to protecting the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park.

Here’s what you need to know for the two events: http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Celebrating_Elephants.php

Saturday, May 21st from 6 – 9 p.m., the evening gala will feature special guest speaker, Cynthia Moss; she is a world renowned elephant expert, and director and founder of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE) and Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP).  She will amaze and Inspire with images and stories from over 40 years of studying the

elephants of Amboseli. This gala event is from 6 – 9 p.m. (presentation beginning at 7 p.m.) in the Zimmer Auditorium; tickets are available at the door and at celebratingelephantsgala2016@eventbrite.com.  Ticket prices are

Come wine and dine while bidding on lovely silent auction items! All to help save elephants!

Come wine and dine while bidding on lovely silent auction items! All to help save elephants!

based on a sliding scale from $40 to $100 which, in addition to Cynthia Moss’s presentation, includes heavy hors d’oeuvres, a hosted beer/wine bar, and the silent auction comprised of fabulous items, gift baskets, and gift certificates donated by Bay Area businesses.

 

Saturday, May 28th, all day family fun, elephant activities at the Zoo and are included with Zoo

On Celebrating Elephants Day, you'll get to make fun food filled treat boxes for our elephants and watch them eat it!

On Celebrating Elephants Day, you’ll get to make fun food filled treat boxes for our elephants and watch them eat it!

Admission!  Activities will include hands on experiences such as touching giant pachyderm bones and teeth, stepping on an elephant-sized footprint, participating in a mock research camp where observers watch and record elephant behaviors, and learn to identify Oakland Zoo’s African Elephants, Donna, Lisa, and M’Dunda. Elephant information and interactive stations will abound but be sure to visit the Tembo Preserve station to see drawings of the elephant facilities and learn more about our exciting plans (http://www.tembopreserve.org/). In the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo, visitors are invited to watch

Experience a special behind the scenes and see how the elephants are trained!

Circus Finelli, an animal free circus performance with comedy, acrobatics, juggling, dance and live music with performances at 12 p.m. and 2 pm.  In addition to these events, Celebrating Elephant Day offers the once-a-year chance to go behind the scenes and tour the elephant barn, and see an elephant up close!  Elephant keepers will tour you around the facility to see where the elephants sleep, how they are trained, and explain why they get a pedicure every day! The tours are scheduled every hour beginning at 10:30 a.m., concluding the final tour at 3:30 p.m. and require an additional charge of $10 for adults and $5 for kids under 16; tickets are available at the Flamingo Plaza and the Elephant Exhibit. We also feature an enrichment station where kids can create food filled treat boxes that will be fed out to the

Keepers giving a tour of the barn and explaining training techniques.

Keepers giving a tour of the barn and explaining training techniques.

elephants throughout the day.

All the proceeds from the Celebrating Elephants Events are donated to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants to continue their work and leadership in the research and conservation of African elephants. To date, Oakland Zoo has raised over $300,000 for ATE. To learn more visit   http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Amboseli_Trust.php. Thanks for helping Oakland Zoo take action for elephants!

African Elephant Romance (or in scientific terms “Reproductive Strategy”)
by | February 16th, 2016

Colleen Kinzley, Founding Member Tembo Preserve & Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research Oakland Zoo

Territorial and courtship displays occur in a wide array of species. In some species, individual males have been observed to selectively favor particular behaviors and/or vocalizations, making them unique to that individual male. Male chimpanzees, for example, are known to have particular components of aggressive or territorial displays that they favor and perform more often or even to the exclusion of other display behaviors. Some have even been documented creating their own display behaviors or incorporating some unique part of their surroundings. Many song bird males create unique variations on their songs differentiating them from neighbors of the same species.

African elephants live in matriarchal societies where young males leave their family group in their early to mid-teens. During their late teens and twenties, they spend their social time in loosely formed bachelor groups. Elephants continue growing throughout their lives; males in their teens and twenties are considerably smaller than bulls in their thirties and above, so these younger males typically have little opportunity to breed. Males over 25 years of age engage in periods of sexual activity and sexual inactivity. Periods of sexual activity are simply defined as time spent with females groups. During these periods, males may or may not be found in the company of other males but are consistently seen with female family groups.

African elephants spend much of their time on the move, sometimes walking many kilometers between resources such as food, water, and shade over the course of a day or two. They are also a migratory species, sometimes moving hundreds of kilometers seasonally to take advantage of rain or other resources. For sexually active males, estrous females represent a scarce and mobile resource. Musth is a unique strategy developed by male elephants to increase their reproductive success.

S. Elliott Samburu National Reserve

S. Elliott Samburu National Reserve

Musth and Male Elephants

A bull is considered to be in a state of sexual inactivity when he is not keeping company with females.  In this case, he may be solitary or in the company of other bulls. Alternatively, sexually active males may or may not be in a state of musth. During musth, some individual bulls display unique behavior or behavior patterns just as males of other species are found to exhibit unique behavioral displays.

 

Characteristics of Musth

Musth is a physiological and behavioral state resulting from highly elevated testosterone levels compared to non-musth sexually inactive bulls. Musth has two outward defining characteristics: urine dribbling and the secretion of glands located in the temporal region of the head. The rate of urine dribbling, characterized by constant seepage from the retracted penis, can be variable but any amount of urine dribbling indicates that a bull is in a state of musth . From a distance, bulls in heavy musth can most easily be identified by the shiny, dark appearance to the inside of their legs, caused by the constant urine spray on their legs,

The constant seepage of urine can result in a whitish to greenish film around the opening of the penis sheath. This urine build up on the legs and sheath results in a distinct pungent odor. Musth temporal gland secretions are thick, sticky, dark in color, and have a strong odor. A bull in heavy musth may have a wide, wet, stain running from the temporal gland down to the lower jaw. Older bulls may develop very swollen temporal glands filling in the normal indentation of the skull above the temporal gland and behind the eye. These swellings increase the size of the forehead making the bull look even larger.

Elephants mating in Amboseli National Park

Elephants mating in Amboseli National Park

Who Exhibits Musth?

The period of time in which males spend in musth lengthens as he ages and continues to grow in size age. Males may begin to show signs of musth in their mid-teens, but in these early years it may last only hours or days and the presence of a dominant male will likely inhibit musth in these younger bulls. The median age for the onset of musth is 29 years old. As males age they typically experience a longer musth period ranging from a median of 2 days for bulls 16-25years to 81 days for males 46-50 years old then declining to 54 days for males 51-60 years old. The consistency of musth periods also increases with age; for young males, their musth period is erratic, and opportunistic. They may be stimulated into musth by the presence of an estrous female then driven out of musth by the arrival of a musth male or other dominant males. As males mature, and depending on their ranking in the population, they will eventually establish a relatively predictable period of musth each year. The most dominant males in the population get the most optimal musth periods, typically during and immediately after the rainy seasons when the largest number of females come into estrous.

An older musth bull will out compete not only non-musth bulls but also younger musth bulls. In most observed matings, the bulls were over the age of 35 years and in musth. Recent genetic paternity analysis of a well –studied population confirms these observations with 74% (88/119) of the calves sired by musth bulls.

Musth is an energetically expensive condition and even the most dominant males in a population typically can only maintain musth for a few months. Musth bulls spend less time feeding, more time on the move, and more time chasing, or fighting with other males resulting in a loss of condition.

 

Female Elephants Choose Mates

Females demonstrate choice through their participation or lack thereof with a potential mate. Courtship begins with urine and genital testing; an attractive female is first followed then chased by a male suitor. Smaller and faster than most males, the female is able to out run the male if she does not chose to stand for breeding.

For females, it is advantageous to consort with musth males and they demonstrate a preference for musth males. For example, during the period of consortship with a musth male, the female is not harassed by multiple, often young, males who are also perusing her. In addition, a musth bull represents a fit male, as only older, healthy males come into musth. The increased levels of testosterone that are characteristic of the musth condition also increase the bull’s fertility by increasing his sperm count, increasing the probability of successful fertilization of the females eggs.

So for both males and females the phenomenon of musth represents an effective reproductive strategy… even if it is not suitable materials for a Hallmark Valentine’s card!

 

Learn about Birds and Save their Habitat with Golden Gate Audubon Society!
by | February 2nd, 2016

Q: What did the baby Burrowing Owl’s parents say when he wanted to go to a party in Oakland?

A: You’re not “owl’d” enough.

Seriously! Did you know Burrowing Owls (BUOW) are the only North American raptor that nests underground and may brood 4–12 eggs at a time? Mom BUOW incubates the eggs for three to four weeks while dad brings her food. After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the chicks. The owlets fledge four weeks later and can make short flights (to Oakland, if allowed!).

My Little Cutie

Dad BUOW is also pretty smart. Instead of flying around looking for insects to feed his babies, he lays cow dung around the nest’s “front door”, which attracts insects. Dad hides just inside the front door and pops out to grab an unsuspecting insect.

Are you curious about the Burrowing Owls as well as other Bay Area imperiled birds? Oakland Zoo and Golden Gate Audubon Society are offering a special opportunity to learn more about these Bay Area birds.

DSCN2692 Black-Crowned Night Heron in Oakland in coy pose by Cindy Margulis
On Saturday, February 20, Oakland Zoo Staff, Interns, and Volunteers will partner with Golden Gate Audubon for an hour of habitat restoration. Afterwards, attendees will be treated to a bird walk with an opportunity to view some imperiled birds, including Burrowing Owls. This FREE event will take place in the morning at Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline, Oakland (time to be determined). Contact Kyla Balfour at kbalfour@oaklandzoo.org to register.