Author Archive

Quarters For Conservation: More Than a Token Effort

by | May 17th, 2012

 

Flamingo Plaza Voting Station

Kids certainly make things more fun. I had the chance to spend some time at the Quarters for Conservation voting station at the Oakland Zoo the other day. I was sitting with “Jungle Jake” Ledesma, one of the Zoo volunteers, who was staffing the station for a couple hours, along with his plush chimpanzee “companion.” Judging by his endearing jokes and puns, Jake clearly likes engaging the public,

Jungle Jake and his Buddy

making personal connections that the station’s graphics can’t do alone. As a steady stream of visitors stopped by, I soon found myself being drawn in. Yet despite Jake’s simian sidekick, it was the young kids that made the biggest impression. The issues at stake may have been serious, but the kids were definitely having fun participating.

 

In case you haven’t heard, Quarters for Conservation is a wildlife conservation program at the Oakland Zoo whose motto is “Saving Wildlife with Each Visit.” Whenever you come to the Zoo, you receive a token. This token does two things.

Explaining the Issues

First, it symbolizes the twenty-five cent donation that the Zoo earmarks for conservation on behalf of each visitor. Secondly, it serves as a means for selecting which one of three different conservation projects this money will be spent on. At the voting station by Flamingo Plaza, you’ll find three green funnel-shaped coin receptacles under a cute little tin roof. Here you’re able to use that token to vote for which wildlife conservation effort you’d like to support. This year, we’re promoting The Amboseli Trust for Elephants, The Budongo Snare Removal Project (saving chimpanzees) and The Ventana Wildlife Society Condor Project. Whether it’s from habitat loss, poaching, or other issues, these animals face serious threats in the wild right now. Quarters for Conservation allows the public to take part in helping them.

 

As I sat there under the tin roof beside Jake, I was impressed by how aware the kids were about these worldwide issues.

Girls Involved in Conservation Efforts

They were informed, passionate, and articulate.  A nine year old girl came up and immediately started to talk about the Disneynature film “Chimpanzee,” and how it inspired her to help chimps in

 

the wild. She dropped her token in the appropriate receptacle. It spiraled its way down the little green chute and fell to the bottom with a clink. Later, another girl stopped by with her family. She was participating in a walkathon for a chimp orphanage in Uganda (pretty impressive for such a young kid.) She was having fun with another girl as they dropped a steady stream of tokens into the chimp receptacle. The elephants, by the way, got almost as many tokens, but the condors were having a bit of trouble keeping up in the race.

 

Kids Love the Coin Spinner

The coin spinner receptacle is a clever gimmick. One kid had a whole fistful of tokens and had clearly mastered the technique of getting them to spiral gradually down the chute instead of plopping straight to the bottom. Another kid, peering down into the green funnel, was fascinated by the real money that was lying among the pile of shiny tokens.

 

The adults took a more pragmatic approach, simply tossing in their tokens without allowing themselves to enjoy it as

Mastering the Token Technique

Using Props to Explain Conservation

much as the kids were. But it was clear that they were just as interested in the conservation efforts of the Zoo, and were happy to do what they could to help out.  And they’d be equally happy to know that Quarters for Conservation has raised more than $40,000 this year. That’s definitely good news for elephants, chimps and California condors. So visit the Oakland Zoo soon and show your support for wildlife conservation. Jake and his plush pal say “Thank you!”

 

New Captain Steering the Zoo’s Ship of Science Education

by | May 4th, 2012

Dr. Bo De Long-Cotty

Did you know that as of this past December the Oakland Zoo has a new Education Director? But you’re unlikely to meet this person on your average visit to the Zoo, so I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you something about her. Her name is Bo De Long-Cotty. Overseeing a professional staff of more than a dozen spirited individuals, Bo is responsible for shaping and guiding the science and conservation education vision of the Oakland Zoo through its many community outreach and curriculum-based science programs.  I recently had the chance to sit down with her for a most enjoyable and informative chat. I already knew much about her extensive qualifications (nearly two decades in not-for-profit fields such as health and human development, science program and curriculum development, non-formal science education—even a ten year stint as an EMT as well as earning an MA from Columbia and a PhD from UC Berkeley.) Wanting to learn what lies ahead, I asked Bo about her passions and dreams for the department.

Learning about Reptiles

I was curious how the transition to her new job was progressing. “It’s going well,” she said, adding that she finds the process fascinating. When I asked Bo what attracted her to the Oakland Zoo, she replied, “It’s a fun place, with a family atmosphere and huge opportunities for creativity in science education—in fields as diverse as art, crafts, music, drama, writing, even poetry.”  Yet it was also the timing that attracted her, as she sees the Oakland Zoo “on the verge of expanding in so many ways, especially in how we partner with schools in science education.”

I asked her what makes her a good fit for this important position here at the Oakland Zoo.  With her background in developmental psychology, Bo realizes that every child sees the world differently, based on their background, age and other factors. They also learn about the world differently.  Knowing how kids learn, play, socialize, and even develop a sense of humor aids her in structuring science programming for the department. “If I were five years old,” she queried, “what things would be important to me? What am I capable of learning?” This insight is invaluable in getting through to a youngster who may be here at the Zoo for only a short period of time, and Bo believes that everyone should leave here with something learned.

Making a Connection

Bo’s a big believer in the value of informal (fun-based) education which has been shown to reach children in ways that are often not part of formal education. Describing her approach as holistic, Bo also strives to infuse socialization into the learning environment: “Not just teaching the facts, but also promoting empathy for other living things.”

In her personal life, Bo and her husband enjoy such diverse cultural pursuits as opera, local theater, poetry slams, monster truck rallies and stock car races, even roller derby. As an avid birder, Bo truly appreciates the privilege of seeing wild animals—even if it’s something as ordinary as an opossum wandering through her back yard at home. And she wants to instill that same appreciation in everyone who visits the Zoo.

Speaking of animals, I asked Bo what her favorite was. Without hesitation, she

North American River Otter

said a river otter—one of our most popular residents here at the Zoo. “It’s their mixture of playfulness and industriousness that I admire. They’re very social but always busy working. It’s a well-balanced community.”

Well, she’s got to get back to work; another busload of eager school kids just pulled in. Come by sometime and see what’s new at the Oakland Zoo!

 

 

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.