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Oakland Zoo Welcomes New Educator

by | August 14th, 2014
Katie with Spike, the Indigo Snake

Katie with Spike, the Indigo Snake

Recently, Oakland Zoo welcomed a new member to its Education Staff. Katie Desmond is the new Creek and Garden Programs Manager. Raised in Sebastopol (Sonoma County) Katie earned her BS in Biology and Animal Physiology at Sonoma State University. Later she worked at nature preserves where she led workshops for kids. In 2010 she arrived here at Oakland Zoo, where she worked as an intern, helping with the Western Pond Turtle Project. Following a three-year stint at Safari West near Santa Rosa, Katie returned to the Zoo as a full time employee in the Education Department.
As part of her new position here, Katie oversees the restoration and upkeep of the Zoo’s Arroyo Viejo Creek which runs through Knowland Park on its way from the Oakland hills to the bay. She will also be helping to establish a series of themed gardens in the Education Center courtyard. Seven in all, these will include a native California wild edibles garden; a waterscape with marshy habitat for aquatic plants; a xeriscaped drought-resistant sun garden; and several others with different types of soil, utilizing urban composting. The Zoo’s horticultural staff will help with the big job of designing and planting. Katie will eventually be developing a curriculum to go with each of these gardens, so they can serve as “living laboratories.” At a later time when the gardens are established, school kids will become involved, learning about the different types of plant communities when they visit the Zoo.
As the coordinator of the creek program, Katie will also be facilitating the intrepid Creek Crew, an ever-changing group of various outside volunteers that meet here every 3rd Saturday of the month. She’ll be helping them with their ongoing goal to restore the creek to its former natural, healthy state.
In her spare time, Katie enjoys reading, gardening, hiking and snowboarding. Asked why she’s here at Oakland Zoo, Katie says she wants to help educate people about the environment we live in. So let’s all welcome Katie to her new position here, and we look forward to her enthusiastic involvement with Arroyo Viejo Creek!

 

A Creek Runs Through It

by | August 12th, 2014

The natural occurrence of clean water used to be commonplace throughout the world. But these days, especially within urban settings, water needs all the help it can get. Part of that help involves taking care of the waterways that wind their way through our neighborhoods. Here at Oakland Zoo, our group of dedicated teen volunteers, the Teen Wild Guides (or TWGs), have been doing just that, helping the local creek return to its natural, healthy state. Along with a wide array of other volunteers, the TWGs have been joining the ongoing effort to restore habitat along Oakland’s Arroyo Viejo Creek, which runs through Knowland Park on its way to San Leandro Bay. These volunteers, who range in age from 10 to 100 years old, include high school groups, families, church groups, scout groups as well as alumni and corporate groups.photo (22)

During several weekends last year, the TWGs assisted the Zoo’s Education Department and Horticulture staff in leading Arroyo Viejo Creek volunteers and various community groups with the following projects: planting native species including Stipa grass plugs; clearing dirt debris and invasive plants from an adjacent new lawn area; clearing weeds from around new oak saplings and mulching around nearby trees; and creating a wooden border between a new parking area and the habitat restoration site to prevent native grasses from being damaged by zoo guests.

photo (14)Funding for the tools and materials needed for this restoration work has been provided by a generous $4900 grant from the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District’s Clean Water Program and Community Stewardship Grant Program. But the TWGs’ contributions to the creek’s welfare have gone beyond performing physical labor. These teens understand how important clean water is to the environment and humans, and that riparian habitats are critical for wildlife and ecosystem functions.

With this in mind, they’ve also assisted with sharing conservation information with our volunteers on a variety of pertinent topics, including:DSC02973

  • What are Watersheds?
  • Why watersheds are so important
  • Invasive Plant Species
  • Native Plant Species
  • Edible plants that are found alongside the creek
  • Riparian habitats
  • Animals that inhabit riparian habitats at the creek

Kiwanis Group with Hort 4613 037

 

Through their involvement with the county’s Clean Water Program, the TWGs have learned how to restore native vegetation on creek banks and wetland transition zones, and how this work has contributed to the long-term protection and biological health of streams, aquifers, and terrestrial resources of our watersheds in the North Bay. As part of this grant, the TWGs have also worked with teen volunteers at Fruitvale’s Peralta Hacienda Park, restoring native gardens and working on the restoration of Peralta Creek. The Oakland Zoo TWGs are always looking for new members. If you know an enthusiastic teen who’s interested in animals and community service, give the Zoo a call at 510-632-9525 ext 201. It could be the opportunity they’ve been waiting for—the chance to help make a difference in the natural world!

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!