Stepping through ZAM: Day 5, Children’s Zoo Module
by | November 23rd, 2011
All Zookeepers are comedians. Well, that might not be true, but the three we have met so far have been a lot of fun to listen to. I guess you have to have a sense of humor if you are going to follow goats or bats around all day at the Oakland Zoo.
Zoo Org Chart
Tonight we heard about how animal management at our Zoo is organized. The animals are divided into Strings and a primary zookeeper is responsible for each String. The Strings usually, but not always, correspond to where the animals live in the Zoo.
This can result in some strange collections for a zookeeper to care for. For example, tortoises are in the same String as zebras. Hornbills are cared for by the same keeper as the chimps. Lemurs go with the rabbits. Who knew?
Each String has, at the very least, a primary and a relief keeper plus a floating keeper who roams from one String to the next as needed. The elephants make up a string all by themselves and it takes four full-time keepers to manage their daily pedicures and all their other needs.
Margaret Rousser, who supervises the nine keepers related to the Children’s Zoo introduced us tonight to our River Otters and Bats.
Margaret Rousser, Zoological Manager
Our Zoo is part of the AZA Population Management Plan (PMP) for River Otters. The  two otter pups born here last spring, were the result of the AZA deciding that our otters had the right genetic strains to breed.
When Tallulah and Ahanu are at least a year old they likely will move to another AZA-accredited zoo to carry on the PMP program there. This is the way species are preserved in Zoos. There are dozens of these programs in operation throughout our Zoo.
Our River Otter pups
Did you know that animals raised by their own parents become better parents to their own offspring? Our otter pups were taken care of so well by their mom that our staff couldn’t even hold them at 12 weeks: they were just as wild as if they had been born on a riverbed somewhere. They are trainable, so that they can be cared for by our staff, but will never be tame and that’s what we all want. AZA zoos freely give each other animals so that species can be preserved.
Flying Foxes (AKA Fruit Bats)
Our Fruit Bats represent only two of over 1000 species of bats in the the world. The Malayan Flying Foxes,  our largest, have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. The Island Flying Foxes are smaller and sometimes visitors think they are babies. They aren’t, and we won’t be having any because all our bats are male.
An Island Flying Fox
Bats have fruit, heat and teddy bears to make them happy here. The toys were the creative idea of their keepers concerned that the  males were having trouble controlling themselves during mating season and this was causing injuries. When they were given stuffed toys, they all “bonded” with the bears instead of each other. We give our bats a temperature-controlled house for them to go in and out of, a huge aviary, and a balanced diet that they have to be tricked to eat. They love fruit, so we toss it in a sauce made of veggies and powdered vitamins. Fruit Bats are ideal for zoos because they are active in the daytime. Insect Bats would be pretty boring to watch because they go hunting at night and sleep all day.
Life in the Contact Yard
The animals in our contact yard (sometimes called the petting zoo) were introduced to us by Liz Abram, their keeper. It’s the only place in the Zoo where people can touch the animals, so we future docents needed some tips to pass along to the kids. It’s all about safety: don’t pet a goat’s head because he will butt you, wash your hands after petting the animals or being in the yard, don’t pick up stuff off the ground, wear shoes.
Here are just a few fun facts from Liz’s presentation:
Goats are social, Sheep are shy. Sheep can’t raise their tails, but goats can, and goats have beards which our sheep don’t. Sheep that shed are used for meat. Sheep that are used for wool don’t shed and have to be shorn. We have the shedding kind and brush them regularly. The wool that is brushed off gets used in other animal’s enclosures for sensory enrichment.
Our Pygmy Goats aren’t pregnant, they are just built that way. They have a two-chambered stomach like cows and they’re stocky because they were bred for meat.
Nubian Goats have long ears for the same reason rabbits do: to regulate their body temp. Elephant ears function the same way. So do horns on animals, surprisingly.
Long ears help keep the Nubian Goat cool.
The ears and horns are loaded with blood vessels that, being so close to the surface, allow the blood to be cooled as the ears are flapped or the horns run through a breeze.
Guinea Forest Hogs are a rare domestic breed and there are only about 200 left in the world. We have two of them.
Our puppy and kittens are new to the Zoo and in training to be Pet Ambassadors to kids who might be fearful of dogs or cats or might not have the chance to have their own pets. Our instructor, Sarah, predicts that Lily Rae, our Golden Retriever pup, will soon become kids’ most popular animal in the Zoo.
Lily Mae, Puppy Ambassador
Saving the few Lemurs that are left
All Lemurs come from Madagascar and, because of habitat destruction and hunting, are highly endangered. They have already lost 90% of their home turf.
Our Ring-Tailed Lemurs are part of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSPs actively keep endangered species going in captivity with as much genetic diversity as possible.
The little Blue-Eyed Black Lemurs are the only primates besides humans that have blue eyes.
Like Elephants and Meerkats, Lemurs live in matriarchal societies. The young males are kicked out of their family group when they are old enough to mate to prevent inbreeding.
This Ring-Tailed Lemur backs down a tree like it’s a fire pole.

To merge with another tribe, male Lemurs have to move in on another male’s turf and they do this by conducting Stink Wars—an amusing but peaceful way of establishing dominance. They have musty scent glands on their wrists that they rub against their tails and then they flash their tails at each other to see who has the strongest smell. The winner gets the females and a chance to breed. I’m guessing the loser is grossed out and takes a hike.

The island country of Madagascar has one of the most diverse animal populations on earth, yet species are disappearing every day. If you’d like to learn more about Lemurs and the other animals being pushed off the planet by population explosion and tree-cutting, start here.
You can help rainforest animals by using only paper and wood with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification which assures it came from a sustainable forest. The Oakland Zoo uses FSC wood or wood substitutes whenever possible.
Tonight’s homework is to explore what pets are and aren’t—300 words minimum. Better get started. While I’m doing that, you can be thinking: What is a pet?
Talk to you Saturday,
Franette

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