Author Archive

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.

Learning how to train animals…

by | March 10th, 2014
Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

I recently had the privilege of attending a workshop on Contemporary Animal Training and Management hosted by

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Natural Encounters, Inc. in Florida.  It was an amazing educational experience, and I honestly can’t stop thinking about it.

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

The 5 day workshop followed a format that balanced both theoretical presentations and practical hands-on training sessions. Experienced animal trainers and animal behavior scientists were on hand to share their expertise and answer our endless list of questions.  I got the opportunity to network with dozens of other zoo professionals, dog trainers, and companion parrot owners.  The challenge after any workshop, conference, or seminar that I participate in is applying my new or improved skills with the animals that I work with at the Oakland Zoo.  Fortunately, this challenge is the reason I love my job!

You may be wondering why we bother with animal training, who we train, or how we train.  Training has been described as the ultimate form of enrichment.  The application of enrichment seeks to stimulate our animals both physically and mentally while also empowering them to make their own choices and control their environments.  Perhaps that’s a bit of a “wordy” description of the concept.  Bottom line is the animal gets to exercise their brain and often their body by doing something…anything really.  At the Oakland Zoo, we do all kinds of training with all kinds of animals.  Leonard, our male African lion, is trained to place his paw on an x-ray plate and hold still for x-rays.  Tiki, one of our Reticulated giraffe, is trained to present her feet for hoof trimmings and acupuncture treatments. Torako, one of our tigers, is trained to position her tail through a hatch so that Zookeepers can safely draw blood from a vein in her tail.  The flock of Red-bellied Parrots in our Savannah Aviary exhibit are trained to perch on particular stations so that Zookeepers can examine them daily.

You may be noticing a theme.  Many of our training goals seek to empower the animal to willingly and eagerly participate in their own husbandry and medical care.  All of these animals have the choice to walk away in the middle of a training session if they want.  Ultimately, this allows the animal AND the Zookeeper to function in a low-stress, highly reinforcing tandem.  The animal is having fun, and the Zookeeper is having fun!

Thanks for reading!  I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures from the Contemporary Animal Training and Management workshop.

Our Beautiful Macaws and Why They Need Enrichment

by | September 6th, 2013

IMG_4963Oakland Zoo’s Animal Care, Conservation, and Research team has the privilege and challenge of providing our animal residents with an enriching, well-balanced life and advocating for the conservation of their wild counterparts.

The zoo’s flock of Blue and Gold Macaws recently got a healthy dose of extra enrichment.  The ACCR team combed through a handful of creative ideas to give the Macaw Exhibit a new, fresh look.  In addition to replacing some of the wood perching that had suffered significant wear-and-tear from years of the Macaws using them to keep their beaks sharp and strong, the team also added two twenty foot sections of rope.  The rope is a novel perching surface in this exhibit.  It will not only give our Blue and Gold Macaws something new and fun to play with, but it will also help keep their little feet healthy.  With some resourceful alterations to the ends of the rope, the Keepers are able to move the ropes to different angles whenever they please.  This way the birds get a bit of a “different look” with their perching without the keepers having to make any permanent rearrangements.

IMG_4968

The fun doesn’t stop there though!  The team recycled some cargo netting and stretched it out between some perching to support brand new bird baths.  Just like the native songbirds that like to bathe in the little puddles in your yard, Macaws and other Parrots love to keep themselves clean too.

But one may wonder…why?  Why do our Blue and Gold Macaws deserve this special treatment?

Macaws are smart.  Macaws are REALLY smart and curious.  It is this very characteristic that makes them coveted as pets.  Ironically, it is also what makes them inappropriate as a pet.  Meeting the behavioral and enrichment needs of these incredibly smart birds is difficult. 2013_0831 P B on new perches 2 A behaviorally unhealthy bird may become aggressive, destructive, or even sick.

Add to this the fact that Blue and Gold Macaws can live for over 60 years, and the bird often becomes an unbearable burden even for well-intentioned owners.  In fact, the four Blue and Gold Macaws in the Zoo’s collection came from such circumstances.  The Keepers responsible for the daily care of our Macaws are tasked with keeping them behaviorally and medically sound.  Having flexible and varied perching options will help immensely with this goal.

Next time you visit the zoo, be sure to swing by our Macaw Exhibit.  Check out the innovative rope perching and bird baths and see if you can spot all the other enrichment that may be hanging around the exhibit.  But most importantly, make sure you walk away with a better appreciation for our conservation message – while Blue and Gold Macaws are a breathtaking, charismatic bird, the needs of the individual birds and the sustainability of the entire species are best accomplished by discouraging their role in the pet trade.