Author Archive

Down in the Dumps: A Visit to Our Waste Management Facility

by | May 22nd, 2015

 

Oakland Zoo Education Staff

Oakland Zoo Education Staff Onsite

Do you ever wonder what happens to all the stuff that gets thrown away in this world? Actually, there’s no such thing as “away.” Everything has to go somewhere. And around here, that somewhere is the Davis Street Transfer Station in San Leandro.  Recently, three of Oakland Zoo’s education department staff visited the facility to learn what goes on there.  For one of these employees, this trip was like a step back in time. In 2010 Katie Garchar spent a year interning at Davis Street as an environmental education associate, where she taught school kids about the importance of waste management.  But this time around she and her zoo coworkers, Felicia and Dan, were acting as chaperones for a class of fourth graders visiting the facility for the first time.

Along with a similar site in Fremont, the Davis Street Transfer Station holds these fieldtrips twice a day and generously provides free bus transportation to make it easier for local school kids to attend. These classes are one of the many aspects of StopWaste.Org, the public agency committed to reducing waste in Alameda County. In the onsite classroom the kids learn all about the Four R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot, the concepts that form the basis for reducing the amount of waste that we humans generate. After class, it’s time for a tour of the facilities. But first, the kids suit up in their protective gear: hard hats, safety goggles and bright reflective vests.  And then they learn all the safety rules.

aluminum being recycled

Aluminum ready to begin its new life

The first stop on the tour is the massive “MRF,” the Materials Recovery Facility, where all of the recyclable material gets sorted out. The idea here is to put as much of this stuff back into circulation as possible. Luckily, all of it can be recycled into new raw materials, such as aluminum, glass, plastic, cardboard and paper.

There’s another area called the C&D MRF, where material from construction and demolition projects is sorted and recycled. Lumber, concrete and metal all get broken down here or shipped to other facilities for further processing.  Then, at the composting area, organic waste from kitchens, gardens and yards is recycled into compost, mulch or woodchips and then sold to the public and local cities for reuse.

garbage pile

Garbage destined for the Landfill

The rest of the material goes to a place known as the Garbage Pit, where unfortunately, it’s destined for the landfill. From here, large capacity trucks known as “possum bellies” (each capable of carrying the weight equivalent of four full-grown elephants) take this trash to the Altamont Landfill facility near Livermore. One hundred of these trucks leave Davis Street each day, transporting a mind-boggling five million pounds of trash to that facility, where it sits and takes up space for a very long time, creating an ever-increasing burden on the environment.

During the tour, the kids get a chance to visit the Garbage Pit. Here the teacher leads them out onto a bridge that overlooks all the action, where big loaders move the material around. Then the kids are asked to point out anything they see that doesn’t belong there.  It’s a fun exercise that gets the kids to remember what they learned and to use their powers of observation. For safety reasons, rummaging and salvaging by the public is not allowed,

It takes an army of Trucks

It takes an army of Trucks

but it’s amazing what sorts of things show up in the trash—accidentally or deliberately. Katie said that if you’re ever unsure which bin to put something in at home, simply put it in the recycling. At least that way, it gets sorted and properly categorized. But anything you throw in the garbage goes straight to the landfill. So the next time you find yourself getting ready to throw something “away,” give some thought to where it might be going, and where it might end up. The decision you make today could easily have repercussions for generations to come!

 

BeeYond the Sting: The Importance of Bees in Our World

by | April 24th, 2015

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word “bee?” Do you think of some pesky, stinging insect? Or do you see the bigger picture, appreciating how absolutely amazing they are and how much they contribute to the natural ecosystem? Sure, they produce honey. But there’s a lot more to bees than that. In fact, bees are among the most beneficial members of the animal community. They’re responsible for pollinating a long list of fruits, vegetables and nuts—crops that the entire world depends upon. Without bees, we humans would be in big trouble. But do you know what? Bees themselves are in big trouble. Their populations have been plummeting in recent years—a problem that’s almost exclusively human-caused. So they need our help.

Ready to work with the Bees

Ready to work with the Bees

What’s this got to do with Oakland Zoo? Well, the zoo has been considering starting its own bee program, similar to the ones at Happy Hollow Zoo, Coyote Point Museum, and the San Francisco Zoo. So recently, several members of the zoo’s education staff went on a field trip in Redwood City to visit the home of a man who knows quite a bit about bees. In fact, he’s a beekeeper. Richard Baxter of Round Rock Honey has been raising honeybees for 25 years now and even holds classes on the subject. On February 15th, Education Animal Interpretive Program Manager Felicia Walker and Olivia Lott, the lead Education Specialist for our Creek and Garden programs, attended one of these three-hour beekeeping courses. I recently had a chance to meet with Felicia and find out what she learned.

For one thing, honeybees are not native to this area. Although many types of bees can be found here, the species that produce honey originated in Africa before migrating to Europe and Asia. Then in the 1600s, Europeans introduced them to America. They’ve done very well here until recently, when environmental threats started seriously reducing their numbers.

The most critical of these threats is the use of pesticides—both in agriculture and at home. That’s often the problem with chemical-based solutions to problems: While trying to control harmful pests, we often harm beneficial animals in the process. For this reason Mr. Baxter uses strict organic methods in his beekeeping operations. In fact for the last 25 years, he’s been doing everything he can to ensure that bee populations rebound, like setting up additional bee hives for friends and at various public places in the area. He also sells the products that his own bees produce, such as beeswax, pollen, and honey as well as household products like soap, lotion, candles and lip balm that are made from these materials.

Hive frame being removed

Bees on a hive frame

The zoo’s education department hopes to make its own contribution by installing bee hives here at the zoo and in the surrounding park sometime in the future, utilizing the existing floral gardens as a natural environment. The zoo hopes to hold classes to teach the public about the importance of bees, for example through pollinator workshops that demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between various animals and the plant community.

Given the important role that bees play in our world you might be asking, “What can I do to help?” Mr. Baxter suggests three things that people can do. 1) Don’t use pesticides in your garden. 2) Become a beekeeper. 3) Join a local beekeeping guild. Remember, by advocating for bees you not only help them, but you also help all of us as well. So stay tuned to Oakland Zoo’s website for news. Hopefully you’ll be seeing some busy little additions to our zoo family soon!

Changing of the Guard: Welcoming Our New ZooCamp Director

by | February 23rd, 2015
Liz Low (aka Firefox)

Liz Low (aka Firefox)

Howdy Pard’ners! There’s a new camp sheriff in town. Yep, for the first time in eight years, Oakland Zoo has a new ZooCamp Director, Ms. Liz Low (aka Firefox.) The former director recently moved on to other responsibilities at the Zoo, leaving the door open for Assistant Director Liz to move on in. Originally from San Jose and coming from a background in Animal Science at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Liz joined Oakland Zoo in 2010. Starting out as a ZooCamp counselor, where she worked directly with the kids, she eventually became the camp clerk until being promoted to Assistant Director in 2014. So as you can see, she’s worked her way right up that ZooCamp ladder, making her the perfect candidate for the job.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with Liz and find out how she’s been settling into her new position. It’s a big responsibility: juggling a dozen counselors and hundreds of kids while interacting with parents and dealing with curriculum, activities, and the occasional bee sting or skinned knee. Liz said it took a

Liz joining the festivities onstage

Liz joining the festivities onstage

little time for her to put all the pieces together, but she reports that all is running smoothly now. It was a big help that the staff was very supportive and made her feel welcome right from the beginning. The biggest challenge, she says, is remembering all the little things that need to be done. (She did admit that on occasion, she’s made a call or two to her predecessor, Sarcosuchus, to get a question answered.) Liz says she plans to keep things the same as they were for the time being, but hopes to eventually make a few changes to reflect her own personal style.
One of the things she’ll be continuing is the Conservation Partner program, whereby one dollar from each summer ZooCamp registrant goes directly to a conservation organization. For this year’s recipient, Liz chose Northern California based PAWS (the Performing Animal Welfare Society) that advocates for performing animals and provides sanctuary for abused, abandoned or retired captive wildlife.
Liz was happy to announce something new for ZooCamp this year: the “Conservation Crew,” a middle school curriculum based on Oakland Zoo’s commitment to conservation. For campers entering grades 6,7 or 8, Conservation Crew is a great opportunity to learn what projects the Zoo administers, which organizations the Zoo supports, and equally important, what kids can do locally to foster conservation “in their own backyards.”
Now that Oakland Zoo offers ZooCamp several times throughout the year, you never have long to wait

ZooCamp Smiles

ZooCamp Smiles

until the next session begins. In fact, the next camp will be offered during Spring Break. Registration opened on February 17 and camp runs from March 30 through April 3, and again from April 6 through 10. And it won’t be long until Summer ZooCamp rolls around. Members’ registration for summer opens March 9, with non-members registering starting March 16.
And with Liz moving up, she left a vacancy herself. Her successor as Assistant Director is Kayla Morisoli (aka Hawk) who started last year as one of the camp counselors. If your kids will be attending ZooCamp this year, they’re sure to meet both Firefox and Hawk here at Oakland Zoo. So don’t forget those registration dates. We’ll see you at camp!

Zoos Aren’t Just for Kids: Two New Adult Events

by | February 12th, 2015

Looking for an exciting adult-themed event to attend with your special someone? Check out “Birds, Bees & Brunch” at Oakland Zoo. You may recognize the theme from previous years when we hosted the “Animal Amore” events around Valentine’s Day. This year, the program is updated with a new flair. Our first event of the season is scheduled for Sunday, March 2. Here’s what we’ve got planned for you: first, we’ll gather in the courtyard of the Zoo’s Education Center at 10:00am. Enjoy a tasty continental brunch, which includes a mimosa bar! Then, you’ll get the chance to create some fun items for our animals—their favorite food treats will be hidden inside recyclable packaging. You’ll get a kick watching the animals unwrap your creations. Afterwards, you’ll have a choice of two activities. You can chooseharry santi speaking to accompany one of our experienced docents on a special guided tour of the Zoo, where you’ll learn about all sorts of amorous animal behaviors. Or, you can opt for a self-guided scavenger hunt through the Zoo, using clues to locate various animal exhibits on your own. Either way, you’ll have fun learning about the colorful love lives of our exotic animal residents. The fee for “Birds, Bees and Brunch” is $20 for current Oakland Zoo members and $25 for non-members. It’s easy to register online. Just visit the Zoo’s website at www.oaklandzoo.org and download the request form. Then fill it out and FAX or email it back to the Zoo. You can also look forward to other BB&B events throughout the year, so keep an eye on our website calendar.

And, while we’re on the subject of adult fun, there’s another Oakland Zoo event that you may not know about. It’s called “Parents’ Day/Night Off.” Drop the kiddos off at the Zoo while you get away on a date with your loved one, or just enjoy some time for yourself. Your kids will be well cared for and will have a great time. Here’s what we’ve got on the agenda: First, they’ll get served a pizza dinner. Then, we will grab our flashlights and take them on a special walking tour of the Children’s Zoo, where they’ll get the opportunity to see what the animals do after dark, when the zoo is closed. After the tour, your kids will get to participate in an Animal Close-Up where they’ll meet, touch, and learn about one of our Animals Ambassadors, such as a hedgehog, ferret, or lizard. Then, we all play a game or Acacia LF & Rose RTparticipate in an animal-themed craft project. And to top off the evening, we gather in our auditorium to watch a fun, kid-appropriate movie on the big screen.

As the name implies, “Parents’ Day/Night Off” is being offered both days and evenings. For instance, coming up on Valentine’s Day on February 14th, we’re offering this event during the evening, so you can be free for a special night of romance. On March 15th, we’re offering the program during the day to coincide with March Madness, freeing you up to attend that game day party you want to attend. We also have more events planned, if these dates don’t work for you, you can look forward to lots of opportunities later this year.

To participate in Parents’ Day/Night Off, kids need to be aged 4-10 years and be potty-trained. The fee is $45 per child and $30 for each additional sibling. Pre-registration is required. Simply download the Parents Day/Night Off Request Form, complete it and FAX it to 510-729-7324. Or you can email it to our Education Programs Associate. So if you need a little “away time” from the kids, give Oakland Zoo a call, and leave the babysitting to us!

ZooKids On the Block 2015

by | January 15th, 2015

Do you know any young children who love animals? Tell them about Oakland Zoo’s popular ZooKids program. Two Saturdays a month, the Zoo offers this fun animal-themed class that’s perfect for four and five year olds. Developed and run by the Zoo’s dedicated docent staff, ZooKids gives children a chance to play and learn about animals, while meeting other kids their age.

Playing in the Children's Zoo

Playing in the Children’s Zoo

Classes begin at 9:30 in the morning and wrap-up at 12:00 noon. Here’s a taste of what we’ve got lined up: First, we start off with a mini tour of the Zoo. Then we head to the classroom for a craft project and a fun game. Next is the Animal Close-Up, where one of our docents brings in a small animal, like a ferret, hedgehog or reptile for the kids to meet and learn about. Then, we head back out to the courtyard to enjoy a tasty snack. At the end of class, the kids can take their completed craft projects home with them. Sometimes, the kids even get to learn a new song that they sing when their parents pick them up.
Each class has a particular animal-related theme, such as “Paws & Claws” or “Skins & Scales” so kids participating in more than one class can have a new experience each time without repeating the same activities. Enrollment is limited to 16 participants per class, allowing one docent for every four kids, which provides plenty of personal attention.

Fun Craft Projects

Fun Craft Projects

Program fees for ZooKids are as follows: $23 for current Oakland Zoo members and $26 for non-members. Fees cover program expenses as well as zoo admission for the participant. Be advised—this is a drop-off program, so it’s a kids-only affair, and pre-registration is required, as we cannot accommodate last minute drop-ins. Registration is online through Thriva, the same system we use for ZooCamp.
The next two ZooKids classes, held on Saturday January 24th and 31st, are entitled “Beaks and Feet.” Here’s an example of what you’ll be learning about… Did you know that a macaw can crack a walnut with its beak? Have you ever tried to climb a tree using only your toenails, like a woodpecker does? Come learn how a bird’s beak can tell us what it eats and how its feet can tell us where it lives.

ZooKids Storytime

ZooKids Storytime

Future ZooKids class dates are February 21st and 28th (“Tails & Tongues”), March 14 and 21 (“Paws & Claws”), April 11 and 19 (“Skins & Scales”), and May 9 and 16 (“Oh Yuck!”) So as you can see, there’s plenty of fun to choose from. Or if you can’t decide, you can enroll your kids in as many classes as you wish. But remember that enrollment is limited so go online and get registered now on our website at www.oaklandzoo.org. If you have any other questions about our ZooKids program, give us a call at 510-632-9525 ext 280, or email us at info@oaklandzoo.org. We’ll see you at the Zoo!

Come By and Say Boo!

by | October 15th, 2014

DSC_0019  It’s that time of the year again—time for Oakland Zoo’s annual spooky fun fest, Boo at the Zoo. It’s a two day event, so you can attend either on Saturday October 25th or Sunday the 26th. And just like last year, the Zoo is incorporating a science theme to Boo at the Zoo, so there’s going to be lots of opportunities to learn about cool stuff while celebrating your favorite October holiday.
Once again, Oakland Zoo is partnering with the Bay Area Science Festival, a group of science organizations such as the California Academy of Science, the Exploratorium, UC Berkeley and Stanford that celebrate the Bay Area’s scientific wonders, resources and opportunities. For example, Boo at the Zoo visitors will be able to check out the cool display of Dermestid Beetles on loan from the UC Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. The beetles feed on the flesh on dead animals, and thus are an important part of the natural food chain. The museum uses these “zombie bugs” to clean the skulls that they use for educational purposes. How cool is that?
DSC_0140Tables set up throughout the Zoo will host a variety of activities such as craft making, where kids can make things that benefit the Zoo’s animals. At another table you’ll find “Mystery Foods,” where kids get to stick their hands into a container and try to identify what’s waiting inside. It might feel like “witches’ fingers”, “baby vampire teeth,” or even “eyes of a newt.” But when you take a look inside you’ll find some of the many fruits and vegetables that Oakland Zoo keepers use to feed their animals with on a daily basis.
As usual, our Zoo mascot, Roosevelt the alligator will be on hand for photo ops with the kids. He’ll also be leading the big Halloween parade that starts at 11am and again at 1pm near the flamingo exhibit. Follow Roosevelt past the meadow to the Children’s Zoo’s Wildlife Theater, where an Animal Encounter show will DSC_0112present some of the zoo’s creepy creatures up close and personal.
Throughout the Zoo you’ll also find our dedicated volunteer staff—both docents and Teen Wild Guides, at a variety of stations where you can see, touch, and learn about cool animal artifacts such as skulls, teeth, fur and snakeskins.
And don’t forget about the Scavenger Hunt, where kids use clues to find secret locations throughout the Zoo. At each location, they get a stamp. When they find all the DSC_0084locations, they can redeem their stamps for a special Halloween goodie bag full of candy treats.
So bring your little ghosts and goblins (costumed or not) to Oakland Zoo’s annual Boo at the Zoo held on Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th. It promises to be a day of spooky fun for kids of all ages. See you there!