Director of Animal Care at Oakland Zoo “I was trained to use bullhooks on elephants” and why I’m advocating for a bullhook ban now
by | November 26th, 2014
bullhook

This photo was NOT taken at Oakland Zoo. This is a photo from In Defense of Animals showing trainers using a bullhook on a young elephant.

There is great news for people against cruelty to animals! The City of Oakland has introduced an ordinance to protect elephants and BAN THE BULLHOOK. This is the tool that trainers in circuses, entertainment and still a few zoos use to control, punish and intimidate elephants. See video of trainers in CA training elephants for performance  (WARNING – this video is graphic). We have a rare opportunity to bring this horrible abuse to an end here in Oakland but we all must act. Oakland Council Members Gallo and Kalb have agreed to sponsor an ordinance to ban the bull hook in Oakland. A similar ordinance just past in Los Angeles which is the first big city to pass such a ban. The time is right for Oakland. Please take a few minutes of your time to contact the Oakland City Council members – and if you can – to attend the Oakland City Council meetings on December 2nd and December 9th.

I have been caring for elephants in the zoo setting for over 30 years, early in my career I was trained to use a bull hook. It is an instrument designed to cause elephants pain by jabbing and hooking them with the sharp ends and using the stick portion to hit them. I was taught to jab and hook the elephant with the sharp metal parts on the most sensitive parts of the body. If an elephant did not immediately obey it would be hit with the stick as punishment. We worked inside the enclosure with the elephants with no barrier between us and the elephants. If an elephant did not obey right away it was thought to be challenging the keeper’s dominance so it would be punished by repeatedly hitting it with the bull hook.

 

Colleen Kinzley (center) speaking at the (Oakland Zoo hosted) press conference to ban the bullhook in Oakland.

Colleen Kinzley (center) speaking at the (Oakland Zoo hosted) press conference to ban the bullhook in Oakland.

 

In January of 1991 one of my coworkers at the Oakland Zoo was killed by one of the elephants when he told the elephant to back up and instead the elephant knocked him to the ground and killed him. It was a terrible tragedy but because of the danger to keepers Oakland Zoo became the first zoo to use a new method called Protected Contact (PC) to care for the elephants. In Protected Contact the keepers interact with the elephants through a barrier. The keepers are safe so there is no reason to have such strict and aggressive control over the elephant’s behavior. In PC the keepers use only positive reinforcement training, never any physical discipline or dominance. The elephants can choose to participate or not, if they participate they get tasty treats, if not the keeper will try again later or ask them to do something else.

 

Very quickly after changing to PC we saw the tremendous benefits to the elephants; we could still care for them but they would never again be hit, jabbed or dominated. The elephants personalities really blossomed in the new system, they were able to behave like elephants, express their emotion, and do what they wanted to do.

 

For many years I have been advocating to end the use of the bull hook. As an expert witness in many cases of abuse related to bull hook use, I have watched many hours of undercover video some very recent. I know that still today the bull hook is a tool used to cause pain and suffering. Dominance and intimidation is the standard form of handling and training when the bull hook is used. All animals deserve our respect and to live without the daily abuse that occurs when the bull hook is used.

OAKLAND RESIDENTS (especially) and Bay Area residents need to show the strong community support for this ordinance. This elephant protection ordinance would hold circuses to the elephant husbandry standard set by the Oakland Zoo, which manages its elephants using cooperative, non-violent, positive-reinforcement-based methods. To see exactly how we train our elephants this way, watch this short video of our Lead Elephant Keeper, Gina Kinzley training one of our African Elephants. 

So please take the time to help BAN the BULL HOOK in OAKLAND! Every individual can make a difference, whether it’s coming to the hearings about this ban on December 2nd and 9th, or writing/calling City Council members to let them know you support this ban.

City Council Meetings: The first hearing on this ordinance is before the Public Safety Committee on December 2, 2014 at 6 p.m. in the Sgt. Mark Dunakin Room – 1st Floor of City Hall; 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. Please join us to show strong community support for this important legislation. The second Meeting will be on Tuesday December 9th before the entire council in the Council Hall. Please join Oakland Zoo and come to these meetings if you can.

The Ordinance has two co-sponsors on the City Council.

WE NEED YOUR TO HELP GET THIS ORDINANCE PASSED!!!

We know that Ringling Bros. Circus is working hard to kill this legislation.

 

IF YOU LIVE IN OAKLAND please call your council member and ask them to support this ordinance. If you live in either of the two co-sponsors’ district please call them and thank them for introducing this Ordinance. Find your Council District: http://mapgis.oaklandnet.com/councildistricts/

IMPORTANT: If you live in Council Member Larry Reid’s District

PLEASE CALL HIM and ask him to support this ban:

(510) 238-7007; E-mail: lreid@oaklandnet.com

VERY IMPORTANT: If you DON’T LIVE IN OAKLAND please send your messages of SUPPORT to the council members ONLY BY EMAIL.

PLEASE SHARE THIS INFORMATION FAR AND WIDE.

Send an email to (or if you’re an Oakland resident, you can telephone):

Noel Gallo – Email: ngallo@oaklandnet.com; Phone:  (510) 238-7005

Larry Reid – E-mail: lreid@oaklandnet.com; Phone:  (510) 238-7007

Dan Kalb – Email: dkalb@oaklandnet.com; Phone:  (510) 238-7001

Libby Schaaf – Email: lschaaf@oaklandnet.com; Phone:  (510) 238-7004

Pat Kernighan – Email Pkernighan@oaklandnet.com; Phone:  (510) 238-7002

Desley A. Brooks – Email: dbrooks@oaklandnet.com; Phone: (510) 238-7006

Rebecca Kaplan – Email: atlarge@oaklandnet.com; Phone: (510) 238-7008

Casey Farmer, Policy Analyst – Email: CFarmer@oaklandnet.com; Phone: (510)238-7003

Talking Points:

  • Please support the proposed ordinance to ban the bullhook and help to protect elephants.
  • This elephant protection ordinance would hold circuses to the elephant husbandry standard set by the Oakland Zoo, which manages its elephants using cooperative, non-violent, positive-reinforcement-based methods.
  • The Oakland Zoo, Oakland SPCA and world-renown elephant experts including the PAWS Sanctuary support this important ordinance.
  • Please follow Los Angeles’ lead and Ban the Bullhook. Los Angeles stood up to Ringling Bros Circus’ threats of pulling its business – it’s time that Oakland do the same.
Oakland Zoo ZooKeepers in the Field in Madagascar!
by | November 20th, 2014

AWE!

Awesome is really the only way to describe Centre ValBio. The Brain Child of Dr. Patricia Wright, it is a state of the art research center located steps away from Ranomafana National Park. The raw beauty of the native flora and fauna of Madagascar surrounds you from every angle. At the same, time, the Centre has two floors of dorm rooms and several state of the art laboratories for researchers and study abroad students from all over the world. The sheer amount of research that is possible here is staggering, and the hard working staff atCentre ValBio make the most of it! There are also several satellite camps out in the forest where researchers and students can stay while doing observations. The Centre, however is home base, with electricity, Wifi, and hot showers right on the edge of the Park. One of the few places where primary forest still survives, you can easily run into several species of lemurs on one morning hike.

We were fortunate enough to have Dr. Wright give us a personal tour of a small section of the forest on our first day here.. She showed us her first campsite in the forest some 28 years ago, when she first discovered a new species of lemur. That lemur, the golden bamboo lemur, just happened to be the first one we saw in the wild in the forest – and we saw it with her! On the first trek, we also saw sifakas, red bellied lemurs and red fronted lemurs. We even saw black and white ruffed lemurs, which are not often found in that particular part of the forest.

Slash and BurnBamboo lemur

Centre Val Bio

One of the most striking things I saw on the trek, however, was not the lemurs, but the interactions between Dr. Wright and the locals. Ranomafana National Park is becoming more and more an eco-tourist site, similar to the model used in Rwanda with mountain gorillas. Most recently a French Colony, French is the most common language spoken outside of the native Malagasy which makes it a Mecca for French tourists. We must have run into at least 10 tour groups that day. My French is rusty, but I am able to speak enough to converse and understand most of what was said. Dr. Wright knew every single guide by name! She stopped to speak with each of them and they all made a point to introduce her to their tour groups as the founder of the park and the discoverer of the golden bamboo lemur. They were undeniably proud of her and their forest and cared deeply about the animals that inhabited it. One group had never heard of her, but after the guide explained who she was and how important she was to the park, they lined up to take their pictures with her.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most people survive on less than $2/day. That poverty was evident on the 10 hour drive we took from the capital city of Antanarivo (simply called Tana by the locals) to the Centre. However, Dr. Wright has done everything in her power to transform this area. Conservation is not just about research, it is also about the people.   The construction of Centre ValBio has brought jobs, education, and even electricity and clean water to the local town of Ranomafana. Logging has all but stopped in the area and though the slash and burn agriculture is apparent all around, more and more locals are finding employment not just at the Centre, but at local luxury hotels that are popping up in the area, bringing even more money into the local economy. Dr. Wright brought us to her Women’s Weaving Centre where the women make their own money by weaving the most beautiful scarves and bags out of cotton and a locally produced silk. In the center of Ranomafana, you can buy perfectly crafted baskets, woven placemats, and carvings made from sustainable wood.

Women Weaver signWeaver

While it may have been the lemurs that brought her here, Dr. Wright has improved life for all of the local inhabitants – human, animal, and plant. She is an inspiration. Earlier this year, she became the first woman ever to win the Indianapolis Prize for Conservation. She jokes that it is fitting that someone who studies matriarchal primates be the first woman to win that prize, but the truth is she deserves it either way! Dr. Wright’s work is the epitome of a well-rounded conservation program and Oakland Zoo is proud and honored to be a part of it.

Bison Business – Spreading the Word about Bison Day
by | October 30th, 2014

Oakland Zoo is thrilled to be celebrating National Bison Day this Saturday, November 1st.

The first National Bison Day was celebrated in 2012 as part of a campaign to classify the American Bison as the National Mammal of the United States. The Oakland Zoo would love to help spread the word about this campaign and this wonderful animal.

Photo Credit: Alicia Powers

Photo Credit: Alicia Powers

National Bison Day is the perfect time to spread the word about the campaign to designate the bison as our National Mammal. Here’s what you can do:

Visit votebison.org and www.beardsforbison.org

Take a photo of yourself with a real or fake beard. This Saturday, post it to social media and be sure to tag it with #BeardsforBison to get it trending!

Visit Oakland Zoo this Saturday, stop by our Action for Wildlife tables in Flamingo Plaza to learn more about bison and this national campaign and to enter a drawing for an exciting behind-the-scenes Bison Feeding. We will also have a Beards for Bison station for you to do a selfie.

Here Are Some Unusual Bison Facts for Your Enjoyment and Education:

The American Bison is the largest land mammal in the country.

During the “megafauna extinctions” at the end of the last ice age when woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and dire wolves went extinct, the Bison genus managed to survive.

Their strongest sense is not their vision or hearing, but their sense of smell.

They have horns that are permanent rather than antlers that are seasonal.

Bison wallow in dust for relief from flies and other insects.

Bison gestation is 9 months and they usually give birth in April or May.

There are many theories as to why bison have a hump. One is that it gives them more leverage to plow through the snow in winter.

The bison has been on the official seal of the Department of the Interior since 1912 and is on state flags for Wyoming and Kansas.

In the mid-1800’s the bison population plummeted from over 40 million to just a few hundred individuals in about 60 years. The demand for bison meat and robes in combination with the ease of hunting, transporting, and manufacturing almost resulted in the extinction of the bison. It was the work of a handful of ranchers who protected and preserved enough individuals in privately owned herds until the federal government could establish permanent public herds. Today, there are 10 major public bison herds, and national population of over a 100,000.

Photo credit: Alicia Powers

Photo credit: Alicia Powers

Oakland Zoo’s bison herd is composed of 4 beautiful cows (female bison), Ann, Twin, Winky, and Nickel. Our oldest girl is 27 years old, and our youngest girl is 21. They enjoy lounging around in their spacious exhibit which also happens to be the highest exhibit at the zoo. They spend their days grazing on the grasses and weeds in addition to the hay, fruits, veggies, and grain that their keepers provide them on a daily basis. Right now, they are in the process of growing in their winter coats in preparation for the cold season ahead. The best way to see them is to catch a lift on the Zoo’s Skyride (open weekends) where you can also get an overhead view of our tigers, giraffe, lions, camels, elephants, and elk.

Bison – Princes of the Prairie
by | October 24th, 2014

Basic CMYKGreetings fellow conservation heroes – Zena the Zookeeper here.

Knock- knock!
Who’s there?
Purse.
Purse who?
Purs-onally, I think bison rock!

I don’t know about you, but I just l-o-v-e jokes! The sillier the better. But you know, you can actually learn quite a bit from some jokes. For example, these jokes are all about American Bison – a fascinating animal that was once just about extinct. Take a look and see what you can learn.

Question:  What do you call a bison sunbathing on the beach in Miami?
Answer: Lost!
True Fact: It’s true, a bison at a Miami beach would be lost! There are two races of American Bison, plains bison that usually live in open grasslands in the Central United States, and wood bison that live in forests and tree-filled park-lands in the Northern United States and Canada.

Question: How do you know when there’s a bison under your sleeping bag?
Answer: When your nose touches the ceiling of your tent!
True Fact: Yup, because bison are the largest land mammal in America (they can be up to 6.5 feet tall at the shoulders and 12 feet long), you would know for sure if one of them was hiding under your sleeping bag. Your nose would definitely touch the ceiling!

Question: What time is it when a bison sits on your shovel?
Answer: Time to get a new shovel!
True Fact: This joke tells us two things. A shovel is no match for a bison, because female bison can weigh over a ton, and males can weigh over two tons. Also, bison hooves dig into the soil like a shovel when they walk around. This helps break up the soil and prepare it for seeds to fall in and grow.

Question: What did the mother buffalo say when her son went to college?
Answer: Bi-son!
True Fact: Although buffalo and bison are actually two different kinds of animals, in the United States, people often call our American Bison by both names. Take a look at the two pictures and see what differences you notice between a Buffalo and a Bison.

Man, those just crack me up every time! And see how you learned something while you were laughing?

Be sure to come out and visit the zoo on Saturday, November 1. We’re celebrating National Bison Day, and I guarantee you’ll have a great time watching our beautiful bison and learning all about these incredible Princes of the Plains.

Find out more about Oakland Zoo’s bison herd by clicking the photo above, or by clicking here.

See you then!
Your friend, Zena.

Bay Area Zookeepers Host Art Gallery Fundraiser
by | October 16th, 2014
Bay Area AAZK members have a good time while raising money for animals in the wild.

Bay Area AAZK members have a good time while raising money for animals in the wild.

Oakland Zoo is not only an advocate for conservation, but also for quality captive animal care and zookeeper professional development. With major assistance from Oakland Zoo every year, the Bay Area Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) has had great success fundraising money for conservation. One of the most successful fundraisers is a part of AAZK’s national fundraiser, Bowling for Rhinos (BFR).  This event is celebrated by various AAZK chapters across the country to raise money for the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the International Rhino Foundation, and Action for Cheetahs in Kenya.  In addition to BFR, the Bay Area Chapter fund raises to help support local and international conservation organizations such as the California Condor Recovery Program and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. This year, Bay Area AAZK set out to raise a minimum of $15,000 for conservation and professional development and today’s total stands at just over $14,000.  The chapter has one more fundraiser this year to exceed this goal.

paintings for DTPC fundraiser

Animal Painting that will be available for auction at Bay Area AAZK event.

Bay Area AAZK will be holding its first ever Art Gallery Fundraiser to raise funds for the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee (DTPC).  DTPC is dedicated to establishing preserves for California and Nevada’s state reptile, researching the species, and educating the public.  The Art Gallery Fundraiser will display various types of art, from paintings created by animals to beautiful animal and nature-inspired photographs.  Donations will be raised via silent auction.  The event will be held at the Oakland Zoo in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium beginning at 7:00pm on Saturday, October 25 and will end at 10:00pm. The cost is $10.00 at the door.  All ages are encouraged to attend and help BAAAZK support the deserving Desert Tortoise Preservation Committee. Monies raised at this event will help DTPC purchase additional land, which will be turned into preserves for the tortoises. Funding also helps DTPC with their education program and guided tours, which provides tours through the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area (DTRNA).  This is a 39.5 square mile tortoise preserve.

For additional information about this event or Bay Area AAZA, go to bayareaaazk@gmail.com.

Come By and Say Boo!
by | October 15th, 2014

DSC_0019  It’s that time of the year again—time for Oakland Zoo’s annual spooky fun fest, Boo at the Zoo. It’s a two day event, so you can attend either on Saturday October 25th or Sunday the 26th. And just like last year, the Zoo is incorporating a science theme to Boo at the Zoo, so there’s going to be lots of opportunities to learn about cool stuff while celebrating your favorite October holiday.
Once again, Oakland Zoo is partnering with the Bay Area Science Festival, a group of science organizations such as the California Academy of Science, the Exploratorium, UC Berkeley and Stanford that celebrate the Bay Area’s scientific wonders, resources and opportunities. For example, Boo at the Zoo visitors will be able to check out the cool display of Dermestid Beetles on loan from the UC Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. The beetles feed on the flesh on dead animals, and thus are an important part of the natural food chain. The museum uses these “zombie bugs” to clean the skulls that they use for educational purposes. How cool is that?
DSC_0140Tables set up throughout the Zoo will host a variety of activities such as craft making, where kids can make things that benefit the Zoo’s animals. At another table you’ll find “Mystery Foods,” where kids get to stick their hands into a container and try to identify what’s waiting inside. It might feel like “witches’ fingers”, “baby vampire teeth,” or even “eyes of a newt.” But when you take a look inside you’ll find some of the many fruits and vegetables that Oakland Zoo keepers use to feed their animals with on a daily basis.
As usual, our Zoo mascot, Roosevelt the alligator will be on hand for photo ops with the kids. He’ll also be leading the big Halloween parade that starts at 11am and again at 1pm near the flamingo exhibit. Follow Roosevelt past the meadow to the Children’s Zoo’s Wildlife Theater, where an Animal Encounter show will DSC_0112present some of the zoo’s creepy creatures up close and personal.
Throughout the Zoo you’ll also find our dedicated volunteer staff—both docents and Teen Wild Guides, at a variety of stations where you can see, touch, and learn about cool animal artifacts such as skulls, teeth, fur and snakeskins.
And don’t forget about the Scavenger Hunt, where kids use clues to find secret locations throughout the Zoo. At each location, they get a stamp. When they find all the DSC_0084locations, they can redeem their stamps for a special Halloween goodie bag full of candy treats.
So bring your little ghosts and goblins (costumed or not) to Oakland Zoo’s annual Boo at the Zoo held on Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th. It promises to be a day of spooky fun for kids of all ages. See you there!