In case you hadn’t heard, the Oakland Zoo Teen Wild Guides (or Twigs as we call them) recently participated in a new community program here in Oakland. Trained primarily as weekend interpreters in the Children’s Zoo, this dedicated group of local teen volunteers can also be seen at the tiger, chimp and sun bear exhibits, where they answer questions and provide information about the animals. In their first long-term partnership effort, the TWGs gathered at Hacienda Peralta Historical Park in December to volunteer their services in the park’s native plants garden. This newly-established 6-acre park, located in the Fruitvale District along the banks of Peralta Creek, is one of the most significant historical sites in the East Bay, being one of the earliest European settlements in the area.
On December 8, during one of four national community service days of the year, the TWGs brought their tools, gloves, and tarps to the park for a morning of pulling invasive weeds. During several scheduled days in the spring and summer, the TWGs will be returning to Hacienda Peralta to continue their work, allowing them to witness the development of the garden over time. This program represents a hopeful new direction for the Zoo, involving the TWGs with community institutions that work to promote wildlife conservation.
But this doesn’t end with the tossing out of a bunch of weeds. As it turns out, a great deal of this invasive plant material is edible. So the TWGs transport it back to the Zoo where (after being identified and approved by the staff horticulturists) is fed out to a wide variety of herbivorous animals. (Our giraffes especially like the thorny blackberry vines.) It’s a definite win-win situation.
The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the TWGs who had participated in the gardening at Hacienda Peralta in December. As a 1st year TWG, Tano was proud to be a part of the project: “It was really cool to do habitat restoration. It was fun, with lots of wildlife, but the (blackberry) thorns hurt you.” Tano told me he was excited to have discovered a new type of plant at the park that he hadn’t seen before. “It was wrapped around another plant and appeared to be stealing nutrients from it.” As a passionate devotee of science, Tano impressed me by saying that the person he’d most like to be was Charles Darwin. He even recited one of the famous scientist’s quotes about evolution.
It was gratifying to witness this young man’s passion for science and discovery. It made me realize how important these science education programs are for channeling the energies of today’s youth. As a member of the Oakland Zoo TWGs, Tano definitely seems to be heading in the right direction. So the next time you visit the Zoo, take a moment to say “Hi” to some of the TWGs. You just might be chatting with the next Charles Darwin!