Author Archive

Out to Sea with Sea Turtles

by | December 23rd, 2013

We spent last night in the town of Sandakan which used to be the capitol of North Borneo. It is nice to get needed provisions and have a good sleep. It was especially great that we all got to have dinner with Siew Te Wong, the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and bombarded him with questions that he answered with humor and grace. We are very excited to spend time at the center later this week.

This morning we had an adventurous boat ride into the Sulu Sea to Turtle Island. Turtle Islands Park is located 40 km north of Sandakan and consist of tree islands, Pulau Selingaan, Pulau Bakkungaan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan. The park is known for its protection of the nesting of two endangered species of the sea turtle, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the smaller hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). The two turtle species lay their eggs here year-round.

This afternoon was free beach time and everyone had a ball snorkeling in the clear waters and relaxing in the sand. As only 50 people can come to the conservation island per night, it was a peaceful and relaxing experience. We all got to see one of my favorite sea creatures, the Christmas tree worms, a very bright and colorful polycheates, or marine burrowing worm.IMG_7316

Finally, after dinner and a film about the program, the announcement was made, “It’s Turtle Time!”. We followed the turtle team into the night and onto the beach where a huge mama green turtle had crawled up and dug herself a trench. We watched in awe as she laid around 100 wet, white eggs that looked like ping pong balls.  The staff collected the eggs and took them to a hatchery, where they buried them and labeled the nest. This keeps them safe from feeding reptiles, or other turtle mamas laying their own eggs.IMG_7348

Next, we walked to the edge of the sea and lined up behind a drawn line in the sand, cameras at the ready. In the arms of the staff was a laundry basket filled with a new clutch of hatchlings. They squirmed about all over each other, waiting for the moment when they were let loose. The basket was gently tipped over, and out they scrambled. As a conservationist, I am not allowed to use the word “cute”, but WOW — it was hard not to pick one up and give it a kiss for good luck. Instead, we did get to steer a few wayward ones towards the sea, but in general, the 100 babies knew exactly where they were going.

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I am now writing by headlamp, Lovesong fast asleep. Another big day in Borneo! I can’t help but marvel over the wild miracles of nature. After those babies enter the big sea, they experience the “lost years”, and only 1% will survive long enough to return to lay eggs themselves. We were told they navigate through crystals  in their heads that work as a magnetic compass. These are the mysteries of nature. I couldn’t dream up more miraculous stuff.

Into the Jungle…

by | December 19th, 2013

Another day up before the sun and we sleepily gulp down our cups of tea as we wait for our boats. Our guides from Red Ape Encounters greet us once again, and we push off shore and down the windy, lush tributaries of the Kinabatangan River. I can’t believe we get to do this again! Everywhere, we hear animals – and we decide to just sit a moment and look up at the trees and listen. Someone notices a snake coiled up on a branch directly above us; a gorgeous reticulated python, just minding his own business. As we snap photos and contemplate his age, the snake suddenly springs uncoiled into the river, missing our boat by inches. We are awake now! IMG_4650

 

Ken and our other guides steer our boat through a beautiful stretch of river and to a place where most tourists cannot tread, into the HUTAN-KOCP orang-utan study site. The HUTAN – KOCP’s (Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Project) work in Sabah began in 1998 with the first ever study of wild populations of orang-utans living in previously logged forest (secondary forest).  Our boat drifts slowly under a few very creatively designed rope bridges, made to connect fragmented corridors for orangutans. Orangutans do not swim, nor leap – and the lack of a large tree canopy makes it impossible for them to cross over the river. The bridges are the solution –  and it is a thrill to look up at them and imagine the red apes walking over them, gaining access to the food, shelter and other orangutans on the other side. IMG_4641

 

We pull up to the shore and in small groups, we climb out and into the jungle. Armed with Mosie Guard (bug spray) and leech socks, we are hoping that leeches are not part of the wildlife that we view today. We climb up a steep hill to a hidden cave where birds nest soup has been harvested from swiftlets and marvel at the richness of the forest. After a strenuous hike, we emerge out of the forest to find coffee and snacks laid out for us by the river. Life is good. IMG_4620

 

Seeing animals is a thrill, but meeting people who are heroes for animals is just as exciting and inspiring. It is wonderful to watch our group engage with these fellow-humans. Some of our group is now up in a tree-hide, talking with orangutan researchers as they stay out of the rain and safe from meandering pygmy elephants. IMG_4673Some of our group is out with reforestation workers who are planting trees all over the Kinabatangan River.  How great to meet the people who are part of the on-the-ground solutions. What a morning! As we finally jump back in our boats, we notice that behind much of the beautiful foliage, we can see rows of the palm kernel tree where there was once a diverse forest.  There is a lot to learn about conservation challenges in Borneo…..

In Search of Orangutans

by | December 17th, 2013

It’s 4:00  in the morning and the rain is pounding. This is not California rain. This is rainforest rain –the sky has unleashed water and just when you thought it could not rain harder, it does. My alarm goes off and Lovesong, my co-leader and I arise. Amazingly, as the sun comes up, the downpour subsides, and yellow rays come through our bungalow window at the Proboscis Lodge on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo. It is an honor to be leading an Oakland Zoo Conservation Expedition to this fascinating part of the planet.

Lovesong, our 13 expedition participants and I have a quick tea and step carefully into the boats awaiting us. We are spending the day with Red Ape Encounters, and are armed with bird books, mammal guides, cameras and binoculars. Our lead guide Ken greets us with a big smile.IMG_7293

First, we listen. The sound of the rainforest in the morning is incredible: such a variety of calls echo across the river. One of our guides can identify the bird species by sound and delights our bird-loving crew. Looking around, we see tall and lacy fig trees, lush vines dripping down 90 feet and light purple flowers blooming high on treetops.  There are so many shades of green.

There, high up in a tree, we spot three white-crowned hornbills. These birds are huge and beautiful, and resemble rock stars with their fancy white feathers poofing from their heads. Two sit on a branch and one swings merrily from a vine, seemingly for the sheer fun of it.

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A large group of Proboscis Monkeys has alighted on a few trees right in front of us and we sit for at least an hour and watch them. Only found in Borneo, these primates are quite unique with their protruding noses, pot bellies and comical sounds. They leap about, always respecting the obviously dominant male.

As the morning heats up, we see silver languar (silver leaf) monkeys, long-tail macaques, a variety of hornbills, and a bird called a jerdon’s baza with a whole rat in his talons.

Our guides steer us to our ultimate hope: an orangutan. In a fig tree, casually snacking we see a mother and her baby, and a fully flanged (with cheek pads) male. We learn that Orang means “man” and Hutan means “forest” in Malay, and we can see why they are named as such. We are now living the dream, and watching these magnificent apes, their red hair lit by the equatorial sun, just being animals in the habitat they were born in. What an amazing day. And it is only 9:00 am.

 

 

Hope for Chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest

by | September 12th, 2013

The Budongo Forest in Uganda teems with a wild variety of living beings, from trees to birds to butterflies to primates. Being there is like being in a jungle dream, where the­­­­­­­­­ musical sounds of the forest seem beyond imagination. One of the best things about being the Conservation Director at Oakland Zoo, is the occasional privilege of visiting such places on our planet.

Along with this privilege comes the knowledge gained around the challenges of sharing our planet. Deep within this lush forest habitat of blue monkeys, chimpanzees, baboons and hornbills- are people, who also need shelter, space and food.

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Amy Gotliffe (far left)

Some people living near the Budongo Forest seek their protein from bushmeat, illegally snaring a pig or deer. The snares, made from a thin wire, are nearly invisible against the foliage, and as chimpanzees walk through the corridors, their hands or feet can become trapped in the snares. In two of the forests where chimpanzees are studied, researchers have observed up to 30 percent of chimpanzees are maimed due to snare injuries. More die.

Researchers in the forest name the chimps that they observe: Flora is missing their right hands at the wrist. Kigare, his right foot. Zig’s right hand is badly deformed by snares. Kigere’s name literally means ‘missing foot’ in Kinyoro and refers to an old snare injury which removed her foot at the ankle.

Human-wildlife conflict is an issue here, and all over the world, from chimpanzees and humans in Uganda to mountain lions and humans here in our own habitat in California. The challenges that many species face can feel overwhelming.

Now for the best part of my job: hope. The Budongo Snare Removal Project gives me great hope that compassion and creativity can still reign in the human heart and mind. This project sends teams of two men (anti-snare teams) to locate and remove snares and mark the spot with a GPS devise. 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.

When our Oakland Zoo team of intrepid travelers last visited the project in 2011, we got to experience hope the size of Africa herself. Speaking to an anti-snare team, I learn that Ofen now owns land for his family, as well as 20 goats, and Moses feels he has more knowledge of the forest and sees this work is a source of survival. We spent an exuberant day helping the veterinarian team de-worm over 100 goats that are now owned by sworn anti-poachers, and best of all, we saw chimpanzees. They hooted and called as they searched for fruit and built nests above us for sleeping. Despite some of their injuries, they lived in a forest where people are trying to live in balance with wildlife. They lived in a forest where people, trees, chimps and hope are alive and thriving. Please watch our short video about our chimpanzees at the Zoo and our conservation work in Budongo.

The 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 animals, people and the entire ecosystem.

Funds raised at an annual fall lecture and silent auction go toward this project. This year’s event will feature author Virginia Morell on September 26th

Which new conservation project will you vote for?

by | February 7th, 2013

Quarters for Conservation is an exciting new initiative launched in August of 2011. Each time a visitor comes to the Oakland Zoo, twenty five cents is donated to one of the zoo’s Conservation Field Partners. Visitors vote for their favorite of three different projects at the conservation voting station in Flamingo Plaza. Be sure to use your token and spare change to vote each time you visit.

Announcing the new 2012-2013 Quarters for Conservation Projects! We are so very excited to support these projects and get to know them better this year.

Protect the Puma, our Local Lion

We share our world with a beautiful keystone species, the puma! These native cats, also known as mountain lions, are in crisis, as habitat and movement corridors are increasingly invaded by human development. Pumas are also being killed by cars and depredation permits (issued when livestock or pets are attacked). The time is now to research and better understand these apex predators and their vital role in our ecosystem.

The Bay Area Puma Project, the first long-term study of mountain lions in the San Francisco bay area, works to track and record pumas, discovering their range, movement, feeding patterns and the effects of human development on puma populations. The Bay Area Puma Project aims to utilize this research to develop new conservation strategies and engaging educational programs to foster a healthy co-existence between humans and this magnificent local lion.

Care for the Malayan Sun Bear

Able to climb some of the world’s tallest trees with the help of its four inch claws, the Malayan sun bear is facing many threats to its survival. Clear cutting for logging and palm oil plantations destroys vital habitat, and poaching for the trade in bear parts kills adult bears and leaves cubs orphaned. Many of these cubs end up in the illegal pet trade, destined to live their lives in small bare cages, never to see the sky or feel the forest floor beneath their feet.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre rescues and cares for bears in need,   providing lifelong care for some and striving to return others to the wild. Through public awareness and expansion of the sanctuary, the Centre is making a vital difference in the effort to save this extraordinary bear!


Conserve Central American Wildlife

Illegal wildlife trafficking, often for the pet industry, has a devastating impact on animal welfare, species conservation, and ecosystems. Second to habitat loss, it is a major cause of species extinction. Many smuggled animals die in transit, and those that survive need constant care and attention.

The ARCAS Wild Animal Rescue Center was created by Guatemalan citizens in order to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals confiscated from smugglers operating in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The ARCAS Rescue Center is now one of the largest rescue centers in the world, receiving between 300 and 600 animals of more than 40 species per year.  Thanks to ARCAS, animals such as parrots, scarlet macaws, spider and howler monkeys, ocelots, jaguars and coatimundis, have a chance to live free and fulfill their natural role in the Mayan forest.

We are so very proud of our three wonderful projects. Good luck to them, and happy voting to all the wonderful Oakland Zoo  visitors.

Zoo Visitors Save Wildlife!

by | January 11th, 2013

On a hot August day in 2011, visitors to the Oakland Zoo became much more than visitors, they became wildlife heroes!  Each time a visitor entered the zoo, a twenty-five cent conservation donation was contributed in support of several Oakland Zoo conservation projects. With thousands of visitors each year, these quarters have added up to a significant help for animals.  Our slogan for Quarters for Conservation project is “Saving Wildlife with Each Visit” and it has proven true.

Kids swirl their tokens to save wildlife

Guests even determined where the funding went. Each visitor was able to vote for their favorite project out of our featured three with their token they received at the gate and their spare change.

Zoo visitors love Quarters for Conservation for many reasons: the opportunity to teach children about voting, the chance to learn about wildlife conservation, the feeling of pride in their visit, and their ability to easily help the species they have grown to love. Zoo staff also experienced an increase in pride in their job, and the animals in the wild benefited most of all. Here are the results:

From August 2011- September 2012, Quarters for Conservation raised $102,499!

50% of Quarters for Conservation went to our three featured projects and was divided by visitor votes.

There were 222,722 votes total.

38% went to Amboseli Fund for Elephants for total of $19,475

Amboseli Trust for Elephants funds vital research in Kenya

36% went to The Budongo Snare Removal Project for a total of $18,450

The Budongo Snare Removal project protects chimpanzees from hunters, like this chimp named “Oakland”.

26% went to Ventana Wildlife Society’s Condor Recovery Project  for a total of $13,325

 

Condors now soar above Big Sur thanks to the work of the Ventana Wildlife Society.

25 % of Quarters for Conservation went to various Oakland Zoo Conservation Field Partners, decided by the Conservation Committee:

 

EWASO Lion Project                                     $2000

Giraffe Conservation Foundation            $5000

Project Golden Frog                                      $1500

Animals Asia                                                      $1500

Hornbill Nest Project                                      $1500

Lubee Bat Conservancy                                  $5000

Africa Matters                                                     $1500

Bay Area Puma Project                                   $2500

Bornean Sunbear

Conservation Centre                                       $2500

ARCAS                                                                   $2500

American Bird Conservancy                         $100

The remaining 25% went to on-site conservation at the zoo, such as our work with condors and western pond turtles.

Here is what zoo visitors had to say about our first year of Quarters for Conservation:

  • I feel good that I am helping wildlife
  • It makes sense that we should all contribute
  • I’m glad I chose this zoo
  • Quarters for Conservation makes the zoo a better place
  • This donation enhances my experience at the zoo
  • I did my good deed for the day!

Here is what some of our conservation field partners had to say:

“The greatest threats condors face in California are ingestion of lead, primarily from spent ammunition, and eggshell thinning caused by past DDT discharges into the marine environment.  The Oakland Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation program is assisting Ventana Wildlife Society with both of these issues and is an excellent example of how a zoo can directly recover endangered animals in the field through partnerships and engaging their visitors.”

Kelly Sorenson, Director – Ventana Wildlife Society

“The unique opportunity that Oakland Zoo has given us is the long term vision of saving chimpanzees by eliminating the threat of hunting. It has been a truly amazing story of a project that simply started as a snare removal campaign but led to the development of wildlife clubs in schools and provision of nanny goats for the ex-hunters associations. We would like to thank Oakland Zoo staff and visitors for believing in our initiatives. Together we should be proud that we piloted a scheme that has yielded dividends beyond our expectations.”

Fred Babweterra of The Budongo Snare Removal Project

“The Amboseli Trust for Elephants just received their Quarters for Conservation donation from the Oakland Zoo and it made us very happy indeed. We were thrilled that the public voted for the money raised to go to elephants, specifically ATE. We will use these funds to help protect and to continue to learn more about the Amboseli elephants. Thank you Oakland Zoo and all the people who care for wildlife.

Cynthia Moss, Founder Amboseli Trust for Elephants

As a community, we have a great power to not only enjoy the zoo and learn from the animals, but to genuinely help their plight in the wild. Quarters for Conservation represents a true shift in the way the Oakland Zoo and our fantastic visitors engage with animals. We celebrate the wildlife hero in us all.