Author Archive

ZooCamp: It’s Not Just for Summer Anymore

by | March 12th, 2012

Singing Camp Songs

I’m sure you know that ZooCamp has been a popular summer tradition here at the Oakland Zoo for many years. But did you know that recently the ZooCamp program has expanded by offering three all new camp sessions? Taking full advantage of the various breaks in the school year, ZooCamp is now offered at Spring Break, Winter Break and even Thanksgiving.  Now, your kids can experience the joys of ZooCamp throughout the year.

Wildlife Theater

It all started in 2010 with an idea by veteran ZooCamp Director Sarah Cramer. After inquiring at other institutions that offered similar events, Sarah wanted to test-run a new four-day camp session between Christmas and New Years. She had no idea how popular this new camp would be.  In fact, the premier of the Winter Break Camp greatly surpassed all expectations. At that point, Sarah knew she was on to something big. It wasn’t long before she had initiated two additional camp sessions, bringing the total to four. A new era in ZooCamp history had begun.

“Most of the kids we see at camp are repeat visitors,” says Sarah. “They come two, three, or more years in a row. They have camp friends and favorite teachers that they look forward to seeing all year. These new camps are a way to keep these kids connected year round.”

Fun With Costumes

What’s unique about these new camp sessions is their shorter format. In contrast to the weeklong structure of summer ZooCamp, campers can sign up for any number of the two-day sessions being offered.  Sarah has found that this format offers more flexibility for parents who are trying to coordinate other family events during these busy holiday periods.

Visiting a Tortoise's Home

As one of many places offering family-friendly activities in the Bay Area, the Oakland Zoo realizes that its guests have a variety of choices when it comes to spending their leisure time dollars. That’s why the Zoo strives to give a good value with all of it programs, especially ZooCamp. As one parent recently commented about her child’s love of ZooCamp, “It’s expensive, but it’s worth it.” In fact, hearing the many favorable comments from enthusiastic kids would make a believer out of just about anyone.

Exploring the Creek

And guess what– the new Spring Break ZooCamp is just around the corner, in April! Here are some of the cool things your kids can look forward to. Nature Play (our most popular summer program) is lots of fun: looking under rocks in the creek, catching tadpoles, searching for various kinds of bugs, even building forts out of materials easily found here at the park.  Nature Play is what being a kid is all about.
Then there’s Zoofari, an adventurous expedition around the Oakland Zoo. Your kids get to tour zoo exhibits, make treats for the animals, play games, sing songs, meet some animals up close, and make new friends. Offered as a kind of “best of summer camp sampler,” this program is a great introduction for kids who have not participated in our full-week summer camp.

Making New Friends

This year, Spring Break ZooCamp is offering four (4) two-day sessions: April 2-3 and 4-5, and then the following week on April 9-10 and 11-12. Registration is currently underway.  It’s easy. Simply click here to visit the ZooCamp web page, where you’ll find further information, including fees and policies. By the way, registration for our popular Summer ZooCamp program starts March 12 for our Zoo members. So check out the new ZooCamps being offered year round at the Oakland Zoo. We’ll see you there!

Man Your Battle Stations: 20 Years of Conservation ZooMobile

by | January 11th, 2012

Question: What makes the Conservation Zoomobile different from the other wonderful ZooMobile programs offered by the Oakland Zoo? For one thing, it’s a team effort– and a very loyal team at that. For nearly twenty years (since being founded by docent Edna Mack), the CZM has been led exclusively by the same group of four docents! (Only recently did Harry, Roland, Claire and Debbie recruit some new blood.)

Hands-On Learning Fun

Yet, it’s more than team teaching that makes this program unique. Offered only on Wednesdays during the school year, CZM travels to elementary schools throughout the East Bay to teach kids in the 3rd through 5th grades about conservation issues around the world.  Usually set up in a school’s auditorium, it’s structured into several stations that operate simultaneously, sort of like a job fair.

"Garbage" Sorting Exercise

Following a brief introduction, the students are divided into groups and led to one of the four awaiting stations where they spend 15 minutes before rotating to the next one.  At the 4R station, the kids learn about sustainable consumption of the world’s resources, and the cycle of resource use. Also known as Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and Rot, this station teaches kids about purchasing power, donating clothes, and recycling light bulbs. They participate in an exercise where they sort “garbage” into different components, and see a mini composting demonstration. At the Rain Forest station, kids will find a festive cave-like umbrella display that they can actually sit inside. Here, they learn about the incredible living ecosystem of the tropical rain forest and get to see and smell some of the many by-products of the forest that we use in our daily

Exploring The Mini Rain Forest

lives, such as chocolate and spices. They also learn about some products whose extraction is destructive to the forest and how we can minimize that damage. What exactly goes on at the H.I.P.P.O. station? No, they don’t bring out a real live hippopotamus. These letters stand for Habitat, Introduced species, Population, Pollution, and Over-consumption– the five main threats to the earth’s wildlife. The kids see puppets and biofacts (animal artifacts such as skulls, bones, snakeskins, etc.) and learn about the impact of fur coats, as well as which other animal products to avoid. The last station offers what the Zoomobile program is best known for: live animals. Here, the kids get to visit with tortoises, snakes, chinchillas and even cool giant millipedes. They learn the difference between domestic and wild species, as well as which animals make good choices for family pets.

During the wrap-up, the kids are asked for feedback to show what they’ve learned, and what they liked best about the presentation. They then watch a rain forest video and later learn about the different things that they can do in their daily lives to help rain forests around the world.

Meeting A Furry Chinchilla

Longtime Zoo docent Harry Santi has seen a lot since he started with CZM. And, he’s noticed a big change in the depth of animal knowledge that kids possess these days. Sometimes, they know the answers before he’s even had the chance to finish the questions. He’s also seen a crazy thing or two in those twenty years, such as the time he got all the way out to Walnut Creek for the presentation before he realized that he’d forgotten to bring the animals! He had to go all the way back to the Zoo to get them.

So if you’re an elementary school teacher or know someone who is and would like to participate in this special educational experience, give the Oakland Zoo a call and get the Conservation ZooMobile to come to your school this year! You can book a Conservation ZooMobile by calling (510) 632-9525, ext 220.

Zoo Docents on a Conservation Mission

by | November 29th, 2011

Talking Tiger

Sometime around September of 2010, the docents at the Oakland Zoo began to work on an idea they’d had for quite a while. They were looking for an organized, yet simple way to speak about the subject of conservation. They wanted to have at their disposal short messages about individual species that they could share with the public when they were out in the Zoo. The Volunteer Programs Manager, Lisa O’Dwyer, suggested they form a group to get the job done. So, they created the Docent Conservation Committee.

Using the IUCN and the Oakland Zoo website as primary sources for information, they began to investigate the various issues that affect the species that are represented here at the Zoo. Some of these issues were obvious and easy to understand, such as how deforestation from slash and burn agriculture in the rain forest reduces the amount of space available for wildlife. Other issues were more obscure. For instance, not many people knew that recycling your old cell phones can help wild chimp and gorilla populations. (The mineral coltan, which is found in tropical soils, is one of the raw materials for the electrical components of cell phones; the less of this material to be mined, the less these habitats are disturbed.)

Young Chimpanzee

So with all the necessary information at hand, several of the docents sat down and began working on the conservation messages, eventually creating the first group of thirty, which the Zoo docents have already begun to use. In each case, the idea was to bring to the public’s attention the issues most affecting the species’ survival, many of whom are facing threats from human encroachment. Some of the messages speak of animal welfare: non-animal circus patronage, alternative medicine, and the exotic pet trade. Others deal with species that aren’t endangered themselves, but are closely related to those that are. For example, talking about the habitat needs of African lions helps the public understand the issues that face local predators such as pumas. In the same way, discussing the conservation issues that are faced by vultures throughout the world help people understand the plight of the highly endangered California condor.

Endangered Sun Bear

But how do you get past the talking phase? How do you get the public to act? Scientists and activist organizations have been talking about conservation for so long: Save the Whales, Save the Redwoods, Save the Baby Seals. The calls for help seem to come from every quarter; it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even apathetic. People often think, “What can I possibly do? What difference can one person make?” But as history has shown, sometimes the biggest changes have started in the smallest ways. Docents, as grassroots ambassadors for the Zoo, are particularly well-suited for this type of campaign. For example, by suggesting to Zoo visitors that purchasing a handcrafted gift in the Zoo gift shop can help support indigenous people from the rain forest who might otherwise turn to poaching to feed their families, docents are able to help people take those important first steps. In doing so, visitors can leave the Zoo feeling that they’re doing something to help, even in a small way.

Making a Connection

The Docent Conservation Committee is still in its infancy; there’s plenty of room to grow and evolve. But so far, it’s been able to make progress in the field of wildlife conservation right here at the Oakland Zoo. So the next time you visit the Zoo, take a moment to speak to the docents. They’d love to chat with you, and you may find that it’s easier to start saving the world than you thought!

To learn more about conservation efforts you can help, Click Here.

 

Discover a New Species of Birthday Parties!

by | August 5th, 2011

Hey parents! Your kid’s birthday’s coming up, isn’t it? You need to plan that party. But maybe you’re tired of the same old bounce castle and party game routine. Perhaps you’ve been trying to think of a new and unique way to help them celebrate their birthday this year. With the Oakland Zoo’s ZooMobile program, you can give your child a memorable birthday party that he or she will be talking about with their friends for a long time to come. After all, how often do you get to touch wild animals in your own home?!

Great Horned Owl

Accommodating a group of up to 25 people, the Oakland ZooMobile comes to your own home with several kid-size critters for a fun, educational experience that your child and his friends will love. Led by one of the Zoo’s experienced education specialists, this entertaining and informative program lasts a full 45 minutes. This allows plenty of time to see, touch and learn about four or five of our animals, such as hedgehogs, chinchillas, lizards, snakes and cool big bugs. There’s always an interesting mix of native and exotic species. As our School Programs Manager, Sarah, likes to say, “We try to bring you one fuzzy, one prickly, one scaly and one buggy.” Specific themes are also available. If you like, you can request an all-reptile presentation (Hooray for Herps), Creatures of the Night, Amazing Adaptations, or one that deals exclusively with the fascinating world of insects, such as walking sticks, millipedes and tarantulas (Invertebrate Invasion).

Bearded Dragon

With the kids seated in a circle, the animals are brought out one at a time. Here, in a comfortable home setting, the kids learn about the physical adaptations that make each of these animals successful, the kinds of things that they eat and various behaviors that they display. Everyone who’s interested will have the opportunity to touch each of them. There’s also plenty of time for the kids to ask any questions they might have. Our enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff members are always ready to share their love of animals with everyone.

But there’s more. Included in the presentation is a gift bag filled with animal-themed items for each child in attendance as well as a special gift for the birthday

Touching a Turtle

child.

So if this sounds like a great new way to celebrate your child’s birthday, sign up today for a ZooMobile birthday party in your own home. Who knows, someone in that crowd of little faces who’s touching a wild animal for the first time may be a future zookeeper or wildlife scientist!

For more information, including fees and other policies, please check out the Birthday ZooMobile webpage on the Oakland Zoo website.

 

 

 

Keeper of the Little Critters

by | April 28th, 2011

 

Chris in her Element

There’s a part of the zoo you’ve probably never seen, and most likely have never even heard of. Tucked away behind the Education Center, it’s known simply as the Animal Room. That’s a pretty ordinary name for part of a zoo, but it’s got a unique function. It’s where all the Education Department animals live—the ones used for programs such as Zoo Camp, Zoomobile, Wildlife Theater, scout programs and birthday parties. These animals don’t simply hang out at the Zoo, waiting for visitors to come by. They go out and do the visiting themselves, traveling throughout the Bay Area. And for the last six years, these special animals have been looked after by a special keeper named Chris.

Preparing animal diets

It’s Chris’ job to see that these animals are taken care of and ready for their important job as ambassadors for the Zoo. There’s a lot of coming and going in the Animal Room, so it takes a good system to keep everything running smoothly. Her day begins before 8 o’clock, when she does a preliminary visual check of all her animals (which total nearly three dozen.) Here, she looks for things that indicate their well-being, such as how much food was consumed overnight and if enrichment items were used– also noting their appearance and behavior. Later, during the daily business of feeding and cleaning, Chris has ample opportunity to get a more in-depth look at her animals. She makes sure to handle each one at least once a day to keep them well acclimated to being touched.

Animal Room Tags

Communication with Zoo staff is crucial. Since she’s routinely in and out of the room during the course of her day, Chris needs to make sure that all the pertinent information about the animals is passed on to those who’ll be handling them. With the Animal Availability Board, she posts such things as who’s just been fed, who’s currently under medical observation and which snakes are “in shed” (shedding their skin.)  As a back-up, Chris uses a series of color-coded tags attached to the cages which further indicate issues with particular animals. This way, animals that need to be left alone for a while are not accidentally taken out on a program and handled. In return, the Education staff uses another series of tags to indicate to Chris the specific location of each animal that’s currently out in the field. This way, she won’t think that a hedgehog hopped out and took a walk around the Zoo if she noticed that its cage was empty.

Tagged Cage

 

What types of animals does Chris take care of? She’s got snakes, parrots, turtles, frogs, hedgehogs, and even giant African millipedes. And where do they go? In the ZooMobile program, they go to schools, senior centers and private birthday parties at homes throughout the greater East Bay– as far away as Livermore, Newark and Sunol. But before they can take these animals off Zoo grounds or even handle them here on the premises, the Education staff needs to go through a 3-part training and certification process for each individual species, which Chris oversees.

 

Training Staff about Owls

Chris also trains other staff in animal handling, including docents, interns, apprentices, and Twigs (teen volunteers.) She also sends out weekly emails to the Education staff in the form of Animal Room Updates. And in her spare time, she does research on possible new animals for her collection. But despite her heavy workload and numerous responsibilities, Chris finds her job very rewarding. So the next time you enjoy one of the Oakland Zoo’s many animal programs, think of Chris, the person who

Saying Good Morning!

helped make it possible!

A Snack for a Parrot

ZooKids On The Block

by | March 24th, 2011

Fun With Costumes

Now serving 4 and 5 year olds! After a two-year hiatus, the Oakland Zoo’s popular ZooKids program is back in action. If you’re looking for a fun activity for your four or five year old child, why not bring them to the Oakland Zoo for a Saturday morning they’re sure to enjoy. Twice a month from September through May, the Zoo offers these three-hour programs that combine fun and learning with animal themed activities led by our enthusiastic docent staff and education specialists.

Learning About Reptiles

Whether indoors or out, the program always involves a topic of the day, such as Harvesters and Hibernators or Tongues and Tails. This theme is echoed throughout the morning in a variety of activities such as a fun craft, game, or musical activity.

Hearing A Story

The program might begin with exploration time in the Education Department, where your child will find books and puzzles, animal costumes, and a variety of “biofacts” to learn about. On other occasions, class might begin in the great outdoors with a mini hike in the Zoo.

Creative Playtime

A small snack is provided before resuming the fun which includes story time and an “animal close-up,” where your child gets to meet and touch one of our Education Department’s animals such as a hedgehog, parrot, snake or a millipede.

So, if your 4 or 5 year old has an interest in learning about animals in an entertaining environment, check out the ZooKids program now happening two Saturday mornings a month at the Oakland Zoo. To learn more about ZooKids events, visit the Calendar section of the Oakland Zoo website, under “News”.   See you there!