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What Measure A1 Means for Tortoises

by | October 18th, 2012

Aldabra tortoises are among the largest in the world – sometimes weighing in at over 500 pounds! Anyone who has spent any amount of time with them will tell you that each one has a distinct and very interesting personality. In fact as a zookeeper, one of my favorite animals to introduce visitors to is the tortoises because I never get tired of seeing people fall in love with them.
The Oakland Zoo has six Aldabra tortoises ranging in age from 40 years old to more than 100 years old! Gigi – one of our middle aged tortoises (she’s about 80 years old) received a wound on her shell last year after one of the male tortoises was little rough in his mating ritual. Turtle shells take a VERY long time to heal and require x-rays to monitor the progress. Just try x-raying through the shell of a giant tortoise. It’s not easy and requires very special equipment -the type of equipment that we haven’t had on zoo grounds.
Last year, in order to monitor Gigi’s progress, we had to take her all the way to UC Davis where she could have a CT scan on their larger and stronger equipment. The scan showed us that our treatment was working, but now it is time to check on her again.
Moving a giant tortoise is no easy feat! It requires several people to lift and move her. Then we need a van that she will fit in and it has to have climate control because reptiles are ectothermic. Of course, it is also stressful on her to be removed from her group, make a two hour drive to Davis, be put into a large machine for the scan and drive two hours back to the Zoo afterwards. That’s a pretty crazy day for a tortoise.
If Measure A1 passes this November, our new veterinary hospital will be outfitted with a brand new high powered x-ray machine – one that will be capable of going through a giant tortoise shell. This means that Gigi will have a five minute drive to the hospital and be finished in less than an hour – rather than taking a full day! A great deal less stressful for her, which means improved animal welfare!

Gigi says “Vote YES” on Measure A1!

What Measure A1 means for Baboons

by | October 15th, 2012

In Africa, Hamadryas baboons are called Sacred baboons because they were once worshipped in Egypt. Six Hamadryas baboons currently call the Oakland Zoo their home, but until this year, there were only five. We brought in Daisy, an elderly female, from another zoo after her mate passed away. Many Zoos would not have taken on the burden of an elderly animal with so many health problems, but that is what makes the Oakland Zoo different.

Daisy came to us with a host of age related medical problems. Like many elderly animals (and people), she has arthritis and requires daily medication with anti-inflammatories to make her comfortable. She also gets a glucosamine supplement to ease the strain on her joints. In addition, she needed some pretty extensive dental work when she arrived, so we brought in the experts from UC Davis’ Veterinary Medical School three times to perform the procedures.

None of this care is low cost, but here at the Oakland Zoo we take our responsibilities to the animals very seriously. The welfare of all the animals is our top priority. Getting great medical care means many animals are outliving their normal expected lifespan, which requires even more care. Daisy is 31 years old. The youngest baboon in our group is 22 years old, this means we have an aging group of animals who are going to continue to need geriatric care. If Measure A1 passes, we can continue to provide the high level of care to all of our Sacred baboons as they reach their golden years. Please consider voting “YES” on Measure A1 this November.

What Measure A1 means for….Bats!

by | September 25th, 2012

Did you know there are more than a 1000 different species of bats? Oakland Zoo has two of the largest species, the Island Flying Fox and the Malaysian Flying Fox. Both are diurnal fruit eating species and as the names suggest, they come from the Islands of Malaysia and Indonesia. Caring for species from all over the world means that many of them are not adapted to our Bay Area weather, so days that feel warm to us, may feel chilly to tropical or desert animals. Days that are cold for us, may feel warm to arctic or high altitude animals.

Flying Foxes are no different; their bodies are adapted to warm, humid, tropical weather. They find our summers pleasant, but winters are just a touch too cold for them! To combat this problem, zookeepers maintain large night quarters which are kept at a constant 75 degrees. This way, our bats are kept warm and comfortable no matter what the Bay Area brings us. However, bats also love sunshine (who doesn’t!) and spend a great deal of their daylight hours outside basking during the summer. In the winter, they are frequently unable to go outside even on sunny days due to the cold temperatures. If Measure A1 passes, the zoo will be able to provide outdoor heating sources for the bats in the winter, so they can bask in the sunlight and stay toasty warm no matter how cold it is outside. The zoo will be able to provide the best of both worlds and maintain a high standard of care and welfare.

Please consider voting “Yes” on Measure A1 on November 6th.

Stuffed Animals in the Bat Exhibit, Why?

by | September 14th, 2012

An Island Flying Fox interacting with a stuffed bear.

An Island Flying Fox with a stuffed bear.

One question we are asked frequently is “why do the bats have stuffed animals?” I would love to just say they are toys for the animals to play with (and often do when I am talking to small children), but the truth is that it is just more complicated than that.
First, I need to give you some background. There has been a lot of buzz in the media lately about the way zoos pair up animals for breeding. Many people are now aware that it is not done by chance and that we breed specifically to enhance and maintain as much genetic diversity as possible. What that means is that some animals are going to get more opportunities to breed than others, simply because of how heavily their families are represented within the captive population. The result is many animals are not recommended to breed and therefore have to be prevented from breeding by some method. The bats at the Oakland Zoo are on loan to us from Lubee Bat Conservancy where the majority of the fruit bat breeding happens in the US. Most of our bats have well represented genes in the captive population. The result is that Lubee gave us ALL male bats. That’s right; all 28 bats in our exhibit are boys, no babies here!
The second thing you need to understand is the concept of enrichment. AZA accredited zoos like the Oakland Zoo strive to provide animals with the optimal care and welfare. This means not only excellent medical care and nutritious food, but also enriched environments that allow animals to perform behaviors that they would naturally perform if they were living in the wild. This can take the form of large naturalistic exhibits like our sun bear or elephant exhibits, or it can take the form of a 50 foot tall enclosure that allows space for the large bats to fly. Sometimes it includes objects that may not be found in the wild, but still provide an opportunity for the animals to perform natural behaviors. This type of enrichment is most frequently seen with our primates. For example, in the wild, chimps will use twigs to collect termites from inside rotting logs. At the zoo, we will give the chimps other types of toys such as PVC tubes or Kongs with treats inside and they must use the twigs to retrieve them. Natural behavior from an unnatural object still results in increased welfare.
So now that we understand these two concepts, we put them together. Mostly our all male colony of bats works well, but for a few months out of each year, they go into breeding season and that causes some discord and a few disagreements in the group. Boys will be boys, right? They feel a need to chase each other out of territories, scent mark and generally just be cranky with each other. We discovered pretty quickly that the number of injuries in our bat colony increased each fall, coinciding with breeding season. While none of the injuries were serious, we still felt that we could improve their welfare if we reduced the number of injuries.
Enter the teddy bear! We hoped (and thankfully were right) that hanging stuffed animals in the exhibit would allow the bats the opportunity to take out their frustrations on something besides each other. Success! In fact, the concept was so successful (a 90% reduction in injuries) that keepers presented their findings at the 2010 Animal Behavior Management Alliance conference – winning an award for their efforts as well as becoming a cover article for their newsletter! The article has also been published in The Shape of Enrichment, an internationally known zoo trade publication focusing on enrichment for animals of all species.
Hanging stuffed animals in the bat exhibit allows our bats to perform the natural territorial behavior spurred by their hormones while preventing injuries within the colony. Natural behavior AND increased welfare from a simple child’s toy. While they may not look like a natural part of the exhibit, stuffed animals are an important component of the care we provide to our bats. Look around the zoo next time you visit and you may notice other exhibits with unusual enrichment items and now you know they serve some purpose that enhances the animals’ well-being.

Change the Channel for Chimps!

by | February 1st, 2012

Eddie, a former chimp "actor," who now resides at the Oakland Zoo.

In 2012 we are more enlightened by the plight of animal “actors” than ever before, at least we think we are. It turns out that some people still aren’t getting the message. This weekend is the biggest sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl! If you are anything like me, the commercials are sometimes even more exciting than the football game.

However, despite pleas from many well known animal welfare organizations, some companies, namely CareerBuilder.com, have once again produced advertisements using chimpanzee “actors.” This causes two major problems, the welfare (or lack of) for the individual “actor” and the more global problem of misrepresenting the status of chimps in the wild.

I’ve written about the problems of chimpanzee actors many times, but this is important and bears repeating. These animals are forcibly removed from their mothers as infants. They grow up living under dominance and constant threat of abuse. Chimpanzees need their mothers to teach them social skills so “actors” don’t learn normal chimp behavior. Finally their “career” is over by the time they reach 8-9 years old, not even teenagers, and then they are frequently discarded for the remaining 40-50 years of their lives often not able to be integrated with other chimps because they were not allowed to stay with their mothers long enough to learn how to interact with their own kind. For more information on what happens to chimpanzee “actors” click here.

Globally, seeing chimpanzees dressed up in human clothing and performing on TV and in films gives people the mistaken impression that chimps are not endangered. Two studies have confirmed this misconception in recent years and both were published in peer reviewed scientific journals. People simply don’t think that if an animal is on TV that it could be endangered.

So what can we do about it? Change the channel! I’m not suggesting that you don’t watch the Super Bowl, but I am suggesting that when you see a commercial with Chimpanzees in it, just change the channel for a few minutes, even if you are not one of the Nielsen Families. Share this strategy with your friends and family and encourage them to share it with their friends and families.  If we can get the word out to as many people as possible, it WILL show up on the Nielsen Ratings which will send a message loud and clear. To learn how Nielsen Ratings work, click here. In addition, don’t watch the commercials online. YouTube tracks how many views each clip gets, don’t let them think you are watching it.  Advertisers spend millions of dollars to create these commercials and millions more to get airtime during this event. Maybe if no one watches, they’ll get the picture!

Knuckle Walking in the Right Direction

by | September 2nd, 2011

Oakland Zoo Chimpanzee

Chimpanzees are one of the most popular exhibits here are the Oakland Zoo and why wouldn’t they be? Chimps are dynamic, expressive, intelligent and overall fascinating, in my opinion.

This week, the US Fish and Wildlife service, at the request of Association of  Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Humane society of the United States (HSUS), Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), and several other organizations announced that it will finally review its outdated classification system of chimpanzees.
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), wild chimps are classified endangered, while captive chimps are classified as threatened. This small, but important distinction means that captive chimps are not afforded the same protection under federal law that other apes are. The result of which is hundreds of chimpanzees living in poor situations in private households as pets or working in the entertainment business under abusive conditions. Over the last year, AZA has worked together with HSUS and several other organizations to petition US Fish and Wildlife to reconsider this double classification and give chimps the protection they deserve. On August 31, 2011, the USF&W agreed that a status review in this matter is warranted. This means that they will research the issue and reconsider their status after hearing comments from all sides.

You can help captive chimpanzees. US Fish and Wildlife will be taking comments on this issue until October 31, 2011. Please consider sending a message in support of this important change.   We can make a difference in the lives of chimps across the nation.

For information about the review go to:

http://us.vocuspr.com/Newsroom/Query.aspx?SiteName=fws&Entity=PRAsset&SF_PRAsset_PRAssetID_EQ=128219&XSL=PressRelease&Cache=True

To comment on the proposed change:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R9–ES–2010–0086]; or
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–R9–ES–2010–0086]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.