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Big News For Big Birds

by | June 2nd, 2014
Condor in Flight

Condor in Flight

Condors are certainly big news at Oakland Zoo right now with the recent arrival of the first two birds at the newly-opened Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center. As you may know, condors are the highly endangered cousins of the vultures that you see in the skies all over California. And like vultures, condors play a vital role in the ecosystem by feeding on the carcasses of dead animals. When these animals are shot by hunters or ranchers, the lead pellets in turn are ingested by the condors. It takes only a tiny fragment of lead to make a condor very ill. These lead-poisoned birds need medical care in order to survive, which is where the zoo comes in. For the past three years we’ve been working with the Ventana Wildlife Society near Big Sur, California, an organization that has been leading conservation efforts to save the California condor for decades. When a sick bird is spotted in the mountains around Big Sur, it’s carefully captured by Ventana’s condor vets and conservationists and brought to our facility. Once here, it’s treated by specially-trained Oakland Zoo veterinarians who provide treatment for the condor until it is healthy enough to be released back into the wild. And you’ll be happy to know that one of the aforementioned birds has already gotten a clean bill of health and has been returned to her home!
But there’s more to our condor program than medical procedures. In April, a small group of young zoo volunteers had the opportunity of attending a special camp about condors. Held at the research facility within the Ventana Wilderness Area, Condor Camp is a 4-day program that lets people observe and participate in the conservation work being done by the Ventana Wildlife Society. This was the first time kids from the zoo (both Teen Wild Guides and Teen Assistants) had the chance to participate in this exciting program. Over the four days they went on a night walk, spotted condors that were feeding on dead seals and sea lions at the Pacific Ocean, and visited the feeding slope and re-release cages used by the staff. They also got to check out the Condor Cam, the remotely-controlled video camera that allows visual monitoring of the birds from the research center. But most exciting, the kids got to use the radio antennas and other equipment to locate the condors, some of whom regularly migrate between Ventana and their other stronghold at Pinnacles National Monument.

Resting During treatment

Resting During treatment

And then there’s Condor Class. An educational program for middle and high school students, this half-day class held at Oakland Zoo is an on-site version of the new interactive Field Biology Workshops. The 20-30 students (from science classes at a variety of local schools) get the chance to use the high-tech tools of biologists, such as telemetry equipment and GPS units to track the birds, which all have ID tags and their own individual radio frequencies. The students practice with this equipment by finding hidden stuffed animals, study condor data gathered in the field by biologists and make scientific recommendations for the birds’ welfare based on that data.
So as you can see, there’s a lot of condor activity going on at Oakland Zoo these days. Although the birds here aren’t available for public viewing, you can be sure they’re receiving the medical care they need to get them back out in the wild as soon as possible, thus helping to ensure their continued success in returning from the brink of extinction!

Forty Candles Burning Bright for the Docents’ Big Party

by | April 24th, 2014

 

 

Back in the Day

Back in the Day. Oakland Zoo now maintains a “protected contact” system in animal management.

Do you know who’s turning 40 at Oakland Zoo this year? No, it’s not Osh the elephant or Benghazi the giraffe. (Those guys are mere babies by comparison.) I’ll give you a clue. This creature has more than 160 legs and can be found roaming wild on nearly every pathway in the Zoo. Give up? It’s the Oakland Zoo Docent Council. And on April 27th, they’ll be celebrating a whopping forty years of serving the public here at the Zoo.

It was back in 1973 when Zoological Society Executive Director Flora Aasen suggested that the Zoo recruit volunteers to serve as docents to help educate and assist zoo visitors. From that idea, the first docent training class was established and held at the Zoo (which consisted of a mere ten people!) In the forty years since, as the Zoo has undergone tremendous growth, we’ve trained and graduated hundreds of passionate individuals into the program. During that same period, there’s been a wealth of noteworthy docent accomplishments, including the introduction of the Zoomobile, ZooSchool, and Wildlife Theater programs; the leading of untold thousands of guided cart tours, walking tours, and Animal Encounters; the creation of talking storybook boxes and docent bio-fact stations; the initiation of numerous events such as the public lecture series, Animal Fund Boutique, Animal Amore tours, Celebrating Elephants Day, and many others as well as the hosting of Jane Goodall’s National ChimpanZoo Conference . In addition, the docents have sold thousands of Oakland Zoo memberships, increasing the number from 600 to an impressive 26,000; supported and fundraised for causes like Quarters for Conservation, Budongo Snare Removal and Uganda lion conservation, and personally donated an astounding $200,000 to help in the construction of the Education Center, the Children’s Zoo and the new veterinary hospital. Through their tireless efforts, the docents have advocated for animal conservation by helping to improve animal care here, and helped elevate Oakland Zoo to compete with the best zoos in the world. Not bad for a bunch of volunteers. And in 2012, the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents listed the Oakland Zoo Docent Council in the top ten of the longest running programs of its kind in the US.

Doing What They Do Best

Doing What They Do Best

On Sunday April 27th, the docents will gather at the Zoo to celebrate these and many other accomplishments– and just as important, to look ahead to what is sure to be an even brighter future. Honored guests include a distinguished array of heavyweights including docent co-founders JoAnne Harley and Pam Raven Brett, former education directors Arlyn Christopherson and Anne Warner , as well as video participation by Oakland Zoo President and CEO Dr. Joel Parrott. This celebration comes at a time when Oakland Zoo stands poised to embark on its ambitious California Trail project, heralding a new era of wildlife education and conservation in the Bay Area. With forty years of momentum, the Oakland Zoo Docents are certainly ready to be a part of it. This anniversary celebrates a great future as well as a proud past, and promises to be a most momentous occasion!

Help Send a Kid to Camp This Summer

by | April 7th, 2014

Have you ever wanted to make a real difference in a child’s life? Sometimes, it’s as easy as helping them have a great summer. And how do you do that? Here’s an idea that you may not have considered before: Zoo Camp scholarships.animal closeup - hedgehog2
As you might already know, for the past thirty years Oakland Zoo has been organizing an immensely popular summer camp program. Each summer, Bay Area kids ages 4 through 18 are able to take a weeklong break from their everyday lives, joining hundreds of other kids for a special outdoor experience of fun, learning, and friendship. With songs, games, crafts, and nature/animal-themed activities, Oakland Zoo Camp offers the kind of genuine, hands-on experiences that are becoming harder to find in today’s techno-centric world.
But not everyone who wants to attend Zoo Camp is able to do so. Although our camp fees are very reasonable, many local kids come from families of lower income levels that aren’t easily able to afford programs of this kind. To remedy this, Oakland Zoo makes it possible every year for a certain number of children to attend its Summer Zoo Camp at a significant discount (up to 80% of the registration fee for one week of camp per child.) But the money to make these scholarships possible doesn’t just grow on trees. The program depends on outside funding.
To facilitate this, the Zoo actively solicits donations from family foundations, such as the Lowell Barry Foundation, which has awarded generous grants to the program over the years. Individual donors have also contributed, including Oakland Zoo staff members, who often donate the employee discounted portion of their child’s camp registration fee back to the program. And other parents of zoo campers occasionally donate extra money to help fund these scholarships as well.
In 2009, the program got a big boost when Oakland Zoo docent Lin Kay and husband Tony gave a generous donation to the Zoo Camp scholarship fund, and named it in honor of a close family member. Since then, they’ve donated to the Vickie Kay Memorial Zoo Camp Scholarship Fund every year. Last year, with an available balance of $7200, Oakland Zoo awarded 33 scholarships for its Summer Zoo Camp program, allowing dozens of financially strapped families to send their child to camp.
I recently talked with Zoo Camp Director Sarah Cramer who said, “We’d love to be able to accommodate all requests for scholarships, but unfortunately these requests always exceed the available funds.” (In fact, the money usually runs out within the first three weeks of camp registration.) The scholarships are need-based, so a selection process is necessary whereby applicants are assessed by family income levels. Despite our numerous funding sources, many of the families that would’ve been able to qualify are being turned away. That’s where you can help.
By making a donation, you can ensure that one more child gets the chance to be a part of this wonderful experience. Simply give Matt Rasmussen in our Development Department a call at (510) 632-9525 x154. For other questions regarding Zoo Camp please call Sarah Cramer at (510) 632-9525 x123. You can feel good, knowing that your gift will make a real difference in a child’s summer!

 

Life on the Hacienda: Oakland Zoo Teens Get Gardening

by | March 3rd, 2014

In case you hadn’t heard, the Oakland Zoo Teen Wild Guides (or Twigs as we call them) recently participated in a new community program here in Oakland. Trained primarily as weekend interpreters in the Children’s Zoo, this dedicated group of local teen volunteers can also be seen at the tiger, chimp and sun bear exhibits, where they answer questions and provide information about the animals. In their first long-term partnership effort, the TWGs gathered at Hacienda Peralta Historical Park in December to volunteer their services in the park’s native plants garden. This newly-established 6-acre park, located in the Fruitvale District along the banks of Peralta Creek, is one of the most significant historical sites in the East Bay, being one of the earliest European settlements in the area.
On December 8, during one of four national community service days of the year, the TWGs brought their tools, gloves, and tarps to the park for a morning of pulling invasive weeds. During several scheduled days in the spring and summer, the TWGs will be returning to Hacienda Peralta to continue their work, allowing them to witness the development of the garden over time. This program represents a hopeful new direction for the Zoo, involving the TWGs with community institutions that work to promote wildlife conservation.
But this doesn’t end with the tossing out of a bunch of weeds. As it turns out, a great deal of this invasive plant material is edible. So the TWGs transport it back to the Zoo where (after being identified and approved by the staff horticulturists) is fed out to a wide variety of herbivorous animals. (Our giraffes especially like the thorny blackberry vines.) It’s a definite win-win situation.
The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the TWGs who had participated in the gardening at Hacienda Peralta in December. As a 1st year TWG, Tano was proud to be a part of the project: “It was really cool to do habitat restoration. It was fun, with lots of wildlife, but the (blackberry) thorns hurt you.” Tano told me he was excited to have discovered a new type of plant at the park that he hadn’t seen before. “It was wrapped around another plant and appeared to be stealing nutrients from it.” As a passionate devotee of science, Tano impressed me by saying that the person he’d most like to be was Charles Darwin. He even recited one of the famous scientist’s quotes about evolution.
It was gratifying to witness this young man’s passion for science and discovery. It made me realize how important these science education programs are for channeling the energies of today’s youth. As a member of the Oakland Zoo TWGs, Tano definitely seems to be heading in the right direction. So the next time you visit the Zoo, take a moment to say “Hi” to some of the TWGs. You just might be chatting with the next Charles Darwin!

 

 

Oakland Zoo & Local Conservation

by | February 25th, 2014

As a leading presence in a community that attracts more than 700,000 visitors each year, Oakland Zoo strives to bring attention to important concerns in the field of wildlife conservation. For many years, the Zoo has demonstrated its ability to move forward in addressing these concerns. As one of our guiding principles, this commitment to conservation can be seen right here in Oakland, where we’ve initiated a variety of programs within the Zoo and surrounding Knowland Park to help preserve native species of plants and animals. Through our docent program, community outreach, and ongoing Conservation Speaker Series, we’re able to provide the public with relevant messages about species, alert them to the various conservation projects that the Zoo is involved with, and give practical tips on how they can help. Like the roots of a tree, these local efforts branch out in a regional and state-wide scope. Partnering with conservation organizations throughout California, Oakland Zoo supports projects that provide maximum results with the available resources.

Oakland Zoo’s commitment to native species and wildlife is showcased in several programs currently underway:

Western Pond Turtle Head-start Program: The Western Pond Turtle is the only native aquatic turtle in California. Oakland Zoo, in conjunction with Sonoma State University and the San Francisco Zoo, began the first Western Pond Turtle head starting program in California. Through a combination of raising and releasing hatchlings, research, in-field studies, and education, this partnership seeks to further understand and support the reintroduction of this shrinking population. To date and through this conservation effort, Oakland Zoo has helped reintroduce more than 500 Western Pond Turtles into the wild.
Biodiversity Center: A new Zoo facility focused on conserving California species. In August of 2013, this 2,000 sq. ft. complexwas opened and is dedicated to small animal research, rescue, and rehabilitation while incorporating educational programming and interpretive messages on how to conserve native wildlife. The California Biodiversity Classroom will educate visitors on the crucial interdependence of plants, animals, people, and the environment as well as the importance of becoming responsible stewards of California’s rich natural heritage through hands-on, interactive scientific research activities including “citizen science” projects, habitat restoration, and field biology workshops.
Mountain Lion Response and Care: Oakland Zoo, working in partnership with various agencies, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, provides support to respond to mountain lion conflict incidences in the Bay Area. The Zoo offers the program staff expertise, capture and dart equipment, and a state of the art veterinary facility to care for and rehabilitate a mountain lion until its release back into the wild.
Mountain Lion Research: Through a partnership with the Bay Area Puma Project, our skilled staff is working in the field to better understand the behavior of mountain lions with the goal of learning to better co-exist with this apex predator.
California Condor: As part of the California Condor Recovery Team and in partnership with Ventana Wildlife Society,  Zoo staff members are trained in field research and the vital medical treatments these awe-inspiring birds need to recover from lead poisoning. The Zoo has built The Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center, a facility specifically designed to treat the massive sized birds, where chelation treatment on the birds can be conducted by our veterinary staff. Oakland Zoo’s Education Department  has also developed extensive student programming around this highly endangered species, which includes field studies and classroom research.
Mountain Yellow–Legged Frog: In partnership with  with Vance T. Vredenburg, Ph.D and San Francisco State University, this program involves the support of field work, conservation efforts and treatment procedures to save this species of frog from Chytrtid Fungus. Through research focusing on resistance to the fungus, the future goal is to breed and reintroduce captive bred froglets back to their natal lakes and streams.
Butterfly Conservation Initiative: Oakland Zoo, a founding member of the BFCI, has contributed to its success in a number of ways, most notably with the debut of its Barbara Robbins Memorial Butterfly Garden in May 2003.

Restoration of Local Creek Watershed: In 2008, the Arroyo Viejo Creek restoration project included creek restoration, extensive removal of non-native plants, re-planting of native plant habitat, six new outdoor classrooms with seating made from eucalyptus trees felled at the site, interpretive signage, and a connecting trail. Currently, Oakland Zoo’s Volunteer Creek Crew meets monthly to steward this stretch of the Arroyo Viejo Creek.

Earth Day: Oakland Zoo’s “Party for the Planet” is celebrated at Oakland Zoo as a means to offer our many partners and colleagues in the environmental and wildlife fields a forum to interact with 5,000 zoo visitors on Earth Day. It is also an opportunity to build relationships that share the mission of conserving the natural world.

Local Seed Stock for Native Grassland Protection: In 2012, more than 40,000 native Knowland Park seeds were gathered in order to germinate, create a reserve, and replant areas around our new Veterinary Hospital and in Knowland Park.
Long-Term Commitment to Habitat Enhancement in Knowland Park: In 2011, Oakland Zoo developed a comprehensive Habitat Enhancement Plan for Knowland Park and the future “California Trail.” Habitat enhancement will be achieved through the control and eradication of invasive species and the subsequent re-vegetation of native ones.
Conservation Speaker Series: This series of evening lectures provides the opportunity for the public to meet and hear leading scientists and researchers in various areas of local and worldwide conservation. Upcoming topics include saving the mountain lion and California condor.
Quarters for Conservation: By involving Zoo guests in the voting process, this program allows them to choose how their money is used for conservation programs in the field, be it the Uganda Carnivore Program, helping the Reticulated Giraffe or the saving the highly endangered Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog.

Here at Oakland Zoo, we’re proud not only of our many ongoing conservation efforts but also the dedicated staff members who help support them. Among our many skilled educators, veterinarians, fundraisers, marketers, volunteers and animal care professionals, all are enthusiastic about participating in the efforts to protect these native species. One look out the window of the offices or a quick stroll through the park can reveal an abundance of wild turkeys and deer, with regular sightings of foxes, skunks, herons, egrets, hawks and many other birds. The presence of these native wild animals illustrates quite simply how two worlds often thought to be separate from one another can easily co-exist side by side.

 

 

PARENTS GET A “TIME-OUT”

by | January 28th, 2014

Hey Parents!parentnightout

Need a fun place to leave the kids while you go out and enjoy some time alone with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? Look no further than Oakland Zoo. Starting this year, the Zoo is offering a fun new program called “Parents Night Out” that might be just what you’re looking for. But it’s more than simply “babysitting at the Zoo” – geared for children aged 4 to 10 years, this program offers a full evening of entertaining animal-themed fun. Once you drop off your kids, you can rest easy knowing they’re having a good time and being well taken care of. They’ll start off enjoying a pizza dinner, followed by a cool guided walk through the Children’s Zoo to visit animals such as alligators, bats, turtles, frogs, lizards and bugs. They will even get a sneak peek at where the ZooKeepers prepare the food for all the animals of the Zoo. Later, in the auditorium, your kids will be able to participate in a fun game or craft, followed by an ‘animal close-up’, where they get to meet an animal up close and personal. Then, we top off the evening with an exciting animal-themed movie. All this for $30 per child (plus $25 for each additional sibling.) Not bad to ensure some quality couple time on Valentine’s Day.

You can drop off your kids at the Marian Zimmer Auditorium at 5:30 in the evening and stay out till 10:00pm, giving you a full evening to “get away from it all” with dinner, dancing, a movie, or a romantic stroll. And when you come back to pick up your kids, they’ll have plenty of exciting things to share about their evening at the Zoo. And if things take off like we’re expecting, we’re hoping to expand our Parents Night Out program on selected Friday or Saturday evenings at other times during the year. So if you want to have one of those special Valentine’s Days like you used to have, give Oakland Zoo a call and sign your kids up for “Parents’ Night Out.” Then, go out and hit the town. We’ll see you when you get back!