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A Visit to the Doctor: Touring Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital

by | October 30th, 2015
Oakland Zoo's Veterinary Hospital

Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital

Wouldn’t it be nice if all the animals  at Oakland Zoo could take care of themselves, leading perfectly healthy lives on their own? Of course it would.  But the reality is that zoo animals, just like us humans, need occasional help to stay healthy.  That’s where the OZVH comes in. The newly built $10 million Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital provides comprehensive diagnostic care and treatment for creatures both great and small. Radiology, lab work, surgery, treatment, and recovery—all phases of veterinary care can be handled within this 17,000 square foot Gold LEED certified facility. This hospital has been a dream for Zoo President,  Dr. Joel Parrott, who has been working hard to make it a reality ever since he began working at Oakland Zoo. Visiting veterinarians at other AZA institutions to learn what works and what doesn’t, he and the architectural team were able to come up with a design that incorporated the latest technologies and procedures in the most efficient manner.

Generally, our hospital is not open to the public, so the majority of zoo visitors probably don’t even know of its existence. But thanks to the Zoo’s Education Department, it’s now possible for a limited number of guests

X-Ray Facilities

X-Ray Facilities

to visit this wonderful new facility. For the past two years Chantal Burnett, our Assistant Program Director of Volunteer Services, has been leading walking tours of the hospital. In that time, these hour-long tours have become so popular that she’s had to train a team of six docents to handle the demand. I recently had the opportunity to tag along on one of these tours. Although I’ve worked at the Zoo for many years and have been there many times, I was able to learn some new things about the facility that’s been touted as one of the finest veterinary hospitals in Northern California.

On this particular tour I was in the company of some women from the Taiwan tourist industry as well as some members of the Zoo’s Marketing department. Predictably, we began our tour at the

Large Animal Treatment Area

Large Animal Treatment Area

front door. But then Chantal led us through the facility via the same route that an ailing zoo animal would follow, providing us with a unique perspective.

Our first stop was Radiology, where animals are bought in for x-rays. Housed within lead-shielded walls, separate equipment for taking vertical as well as horizontal x-rays accommodate a variety of diagnostic situations.  Of all our animal residents, only elephants and giraffes are too large to be treated here at the hospital. In those cases, the vet staff has the ability to bring whatever equipment they need to the animals’ exhibits, for a “house call.”

Then it was on to Treatment, where multiple procedures can take place simultaneously, in the two adjacent rooms. Included in this area is equipment for anesthesia, oxygen, ultrasound and animal dentistry. Skylights augment the electrical lighting; stainless steel surfaces are easily cleaned.  The large folding padded equine table can safely accommodate hoofstock of any size.  Nearby is the scrub area, where the vet staff cleans up in preparation for their work. Also located nearby are the exam kits—plastic tote boxes containing the equipment needed for work in the field.

The Hoofstock Recovery Area provides a quiet environment (straw-covered floor, subdued lighting) for recently treated

Vet Tech Reviewing Information

Vet Tech Reviewing Information

animals to recuperate until they’re ready to return to their exhibits. Down the hall, the Quarantine area allows for the isolation of animals to prevent disease transmission. As a matter of protocol, all animals coming to the Zoo from other institutions are required to be quarantined for thirty days, so this facility is often used for this precautionary purpose as well.  The heated floor and hydraulic doors make this area safe and comfortable for these animals whose stay is generally longer than those being treated for specific health issues.

Various other dedicated areas are conveniently located nearby: a diet prep kitchen to prepare all the meals for the animal guests, a pharmacy, two separate laboratories for testing and research, as well as several rooms to meet the needs of the staff: laundry room, conference room, a kitchen

Visiting Veterinary Eye Specialist

Visiting Veterinary Eye Specialist

and several private and group offices. There’s even a cozy studio apartment that allows a staff member to stay overnight to keep an eye on animals that need frequent observation or care. Everything from the solar paneled roof to the heated floors of this facility helps provide for the needs of our more than 650 animal residents.

If you’re interested in booking a tour to see this wonderful new hospital for yourself, please contact Chantal Burnett at 510-632-9525 ext 209 (Tues- Sat) or email her at Reservations are required. The hour-long tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 10 am and 12 noon. Tour fees are $20 for members /$25 for non-members. Pre-vet student groups and high school student groups are $200 per 20 students. Maximum number of guests per tour is 20. Hope to see you there!


Scouting Around for Some Adventure?

by | September 18th, 2015

There’s something new happening with Oakland Zoo’s scouting programs. We’ve completely revamped our workshop structure and content to reflect the recent changes in the Cub Scout organization. The four ranks (Tiger, boy in dirtWolf, Bear and Webelos) are still the same, but the requirements for earning them are more straightforward and action-based. The awards themselves are also different. The Scouts earn each of these ranks by completing a series of seven adventures, or achievements. One of the ways a scout can complete these adventures is by attending one of Oakland Zoo’s scout programs. These weekend workshops are offered in both half-day (2 ½ hour) and overnight sessions. For convenience, the half day programs are offered both in the morning and afternoon. These adventures include such activities as scavenger hunts, taking nature hikes to identify plant and animal species, building overnight shelters, using map and compass (even making your own simple compass,) as well as learning about composting, endangered species and how trees fit into our complex ecosystem.
The zoo workshops are structured specifically for one adventure within each of the different levels or ranks: Tigers in the Wild (Tiger); Paws on the Path (Wolf); Fur, Feathers and Ferns (Bear); and Into the Woods (Webelos.) Each of crouching boythe workshops also includes an “Animal Close-up” and a guided tour of the Zoo. Some of the classes visit Arroyo Viejo Creek and others enjoy a hike through various parts of Knowland Park.
These workshops generally cater to scouts within the same den, so all the kids will already know everyone else in the group. Each scout is also working toward the same goal, which fosters more team spirit. Since the workshops can accommodate a maximum of thirty individuals, some of them occasionally include multiple dens. Each scout receives a patch for his participation in the Zoo workshops, and then can later obtain his official new belt loop insignia from the Cub Scouts.
Oakland Zoo also offers a workshop specifically designed for the scouts’ NOVA Award, an extra-curricular award boy in bushesdealing with science, technology, engineering and mathematics that can be earned by scouts of various levels. Here at the Zoo, scouts working toward the NOVA award get the opportunity to study the local ecosystems of the Bay Area– learning about food chains, biodiversity, and predator/prey relationships.
All of our workshops require advance registration but there’s usually plenty of room for everyone. Den leaders who are interested in enrolling their Cub Scouts in any of Oakland Zoo’s scout workshops can visit the Zoo’s website at If you have any further questions you can call our reservation receptionist at 510-632-9525 x 220. So get your Cub Scout ready for some adventure. We’ll see him at Oakland Zoo!

Making it Green: Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs

by | July 17th, 2015

You might not know this but Oakland Zoo deals with a lot more than just animals. Surrounding the Zoo, like a giant green oasis, lies the expansive Knowland Park. And running through the park you’ll find crew with bagsthe meandering Arroyo Viejo Creek, making its way from the East Bay hills to San Leandro Bay. But this creek isn’t some man-made exhibit with fake foliage. It’s a naturally occurring bio zone, complete with its own plant life, animal life and geological features. In other words, it’s home to a lot of living things. And like far too many natural ecosystems, Arroyo Viejo Creek faces ongoing threats from the human world. So it needs a little help. That’s where Oakland Zoo comes in.

For several years now the Zoo has facilitated restoration work on the creek in an effort to return it to its natural, healthy state. This work involves cleaning up accumulated trash, removing invasive plants (such as French Broom, thistle, poison hemlock and English ivy) and planting weed pullersnative species, such as coastal live oak. Most of this work is done by a group known as the Creek Crew, a team of up to fifty zoo-led volunteers that get together one Saturday each month. Armed with shovels, rakes and work gloves, the Creek Crew involves people of all ages, from kids to seniors. And they have a great time too. Overseeing these efforts is Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs Manager, Olivia Lott.

A recent arrival at the Zoo, Olivia is also organizing an ambitious plan to create a series of themed demonstration gardens to use in our Education Creek and Garden programs. These gardens will illustrate a variety of biomes and will be used to educate the public about the role of various plant species. Utilizing our existing planter space in the Education Center courtyard, Olivia hopes to create eight different plots, including an edible garden, a medicinal garden, a xeriscaped garden for sun loving plants, a habitat and shelter garden to attract local wildlife, one for shade plants (filled with ferns native to our northern California woodlands) and other gardens for aquatic plants, carnivorous plants and for attracting butterflies and other pollinators. There’s even a group on grassgarden consisting of plants that grow without the need for soil that will be grown vertically along one wall of our Education facility!

Olivia plans to involve the public in creating the space for these gardens. Projects like building planter boxes, vertical garden frames and small fences, plus soil preparation and even some planting can all be fun educational projects for the dedicated groups and individuals who volunteer their time here at the Zoo each month. Education Department staff will maintain the gardens once they are established.

Another conservation project Olivia is helping to launch involves sharing a bit of beautiful Knowland Park with the rest of the East Bay. Starting this September, several groups including Creek and Garden classes, Creek Crew volunteers and Zoo staff will begin collecting acorns that have fallen from the Coast purple and chipsLive Oak trees living in the upper park. The acorns will be brought down to the Education Center to be prepped and planted in containers where they will grow for the next 24 months or so. Once the acorns have become small oak saplings, they will be given to East Bay residents who are interested in helping to re-populate their neighborhoods and yards with these magnificent native trees that once gave Oakland its name. Instructions for caring for the saplings as well as small markers that tell about the trees and where they came from will be provided with each tree. This project grew out of the Zoo’s desire to not only replace the few oak trees that will be removed during CA Trail construction, but to also “spread some of the wealth” of Knowland Park throughout East Bay neighborhoods.


If you’re interested in joining the Creek Crew or know someone who is, contact Oakland Zoo at or 510-632-9525 x 233 and get involved with the next work day at Arroyo Viejo Creek. If you’re interested in helping with the gardens, contact Chantal at Either way, you’ll have a great time working with nature and meeting new friends. And it’s a good feeling knowing that you too can make a difference!


All Aboard for ZooCamp! What’s New for 2015?

by | June 12th, 2015

It’s that time of year again. That’s right—time for ZooCamp at Oakland Zoo. And this year, along with a lot of perennial favorites, we’ve got several exciting new things happening.

ZooArt is a fun new program for middle schoolers (entering 6th, 7th, or 8th grade) where kids get a chance to learn some creative skills like drawing, painting, and mixed media stuff like collage making. Under the direction of a trained artist, they’ll??????????????????????????????? spend plenty of time learning technique before putting their new skills to work. Visiting several spots around the Zoo and the creek (with sketchbooks provided) the kids learn to draw not only a variety of animals, but plants, flowers and leaves as well. ??????????????????????????????? By the end of the week the kids will have produced three good-quality pieces of art that they can display in class and then take home with them. As ZooArt is a new program, it’s being offered for only two of the weeks during ZooCamp, but judging by the response so far, we might be offering additional sessions in future years.

Also new this year is Conservation Crew, a middle school program that deals with important conservation issues. Here kids learn which conservation efforts Oakland Zoo is currently involved with, as well as what they themselves can do to help. During camp the kids get to participate in various activities (dissecting owl pellets, removing invasive plants and testing water quality at Arroyo Viejo Creek right here in Knowland Park.) During a walk through the Zoo, the kids will stop off at various exhibits where they’ll learn about specific projects relating to those animals such as the Budongo Snare Removal Project in Uganda, 96 Elephants in Africa, and ARCAS, the rain forest wildlife conservation program in Guatemala. Yet rather than overwhelming them with doom and gloom forecasts, Conservation Crew empowers kids by giving them simple suggestions that they can follow to help make a difference in the world.

Every year at ZooCamp we select a particular animal as our conservation theme, along with a related organization to support. This year we’ll be focusing on tigers. One dollar from each camp attendee will go toward PAWS, the Performing Animal Welfare kids in creekSociety here in California. This organization is particularly important to Oakland Zoo because all five of our tigers were rescued from harmful situations. The message we’re trying to impart is that kids themselves can help make important changes in the way animals are treated (for instance by boycotting circuses and movies that employ wild or exotic animals for entertainment.) On the first day of ZooCamp, the kids will learn all about PAWS. They’ll also see a skit put on by the camp teachers where they’ll learn what life is like for a tiger as a pet, as a performing animal, and as a resident of a sanctuary (where tigers actually get to be tigers) and then they’ll see a short presentation. At the end of the week the kids get a special gift bracelet which they earn by demonstrating their commitment to conservation.

So this year should be a very special one at ZooCamp. If you haven’t already signed your kids up for this summer, you can register at and get on board while there’s still time. For any additional questions you can call our ZooCamp hotline at (510) 632-9525 ex 280. We’ll see you at ZooCamp!

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!