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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 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 If you have any other questions about our ZooKids program, give us a call at 510-632-9525 ext 280, or email us at 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!

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 (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!