Author Archive

Who’s the Oldest in the Zoo?

by | December 8th, 2010

Quick – how many dinosaurs can you name?

I bet you came up with at least three: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops.  Maybe you are better at this than me, so you got Pterodactyl and Velociraptor too.  Good job!

Now quick – how many other prehistoric animals can you name?

In my experience, most people can come up with just one, the Woolly Mammoth.  But the truth is that many creatures inhabited the Earth along with the dinosaurs and were related to animals we know today.  Three fossil replicas live in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo, right alongside their modern descendants.

Protostega gigas lives next to the underwater alligator windows.  It is pretty easy to recognize it as a turtle.  In fact, Protostega was a sea turtle that lived 97-66 million years ago.  Its preserved remains are found from South Dakota to Texas, from Colorado to Kansas, since 97 million years ago the Great Plains of today were underwater!  This turtles wide, flat ribs were probably connected by a leathery covering, similar to the shell of modern Leatherback Sea Turtles.

Now this fossil is pretty easy to recognize as a turtle, but some prehistoric animals are much harder to identify.

Check out Eroyps and imagine a salamander that was 5-6 feet long!  This was no gentle giant, Eroyps was a fierce predator that hunted both in water and on land, similar to crocodiles today.  It lived roughly 280 million years ago, which pre-dates the dinosaurs.

Our last Children’s Zoo resident fossil is much younger, a mere 144-65 million years old.  This coincides with the peak of dinosaur populations, which makes sense because Sarcosuchus imperator* ate dinosaurs!  This ancient crocodilian grew up to 40 feet long and weighed about 17,500 pounds.  Notice how the eyes and nostrils are on top of the skull, which is very similar to modern alligators.  Scientists think Sarcosuchus was a “sit and wait” predator like our American alligators.  They would float motionless in the water, able to breathe and watch the shore because their nostrils and eyes are on top of their head.  When an unsuspecting dinosaur (or deer today) came to the water’s edge to drink – BAM!  Sarcosuchus would launch itself forward with tremendous speed and power and grab it’s prey.

So we have three fossil replicas in the Children’s Zoo, none of which are dinosaurs, but all of which are related to animals alive today in our exhibits.  To find turtles like Protostega gigas, head to the RAD Room pond exhibit and look for our spotted turtles or three-toed box turtles.  While you are there, check out all the different frogs; they are amphibians like Eroyps.  And don’t miss the American alligators, a modern day (and much smaller) Sarcosuchus!

*Sarcosuchus imperator holds a special place in my heart because that’s the nickname I use during our ZooCamp program.  It’s not unusual for children in the grocery store to call out “Hi Sarco!” when I walk by!

What can make a ZooCamp teacher smile?

by | July 22nd, 2010

(While Sarah was busy getting camp up and running, one of our returning camp teachers offered to be a guest author.)

By Rebecca Stern, aka Vella

As a recent graduate from an elementary teaching credential program I can say Iʼve
seen my fair share of good and great schools and good and great programs. The Oaklandʼs ZooCamp is run like a great school with an exceptional amount of fun thrown into itʼs agenda. The strategy for camp is simple. Learn about animals, conservation, and our role in the environment, and have tons of fun.

As a third year returning teacher to the Oakland Zooʼs summer program I can say that working at the zoo has itʼs perks for even us teachers. Seeing the same animals so often provides opportunities to see the animals grow and change. From 2009 to 2010 alone the zoo has seen many fascinating changes. Among my favorites are the baboons fondness of their new exhibit, watching new animal introductions (such as the sunbear and chimpanzees) and oh, the babies! The most notable are the hornbill mother nesting in her exhibit while her mate brings her food and the baby squirrel monkey who rides on its motherʼs back.  Itʼs no wonder our zoo members visit time andtime again throughout the year.  If only Zoocamp was year-round!

What makes Oaklandʼs Zoocamp significantly different from other camps? Oaklandʼs Zoocamp is notable for many reasons. First, the focus isnʼt on “time-fillers” to keep the kids busy during the summer months. Each year we focus on a conservation project and teach the campers what they can do to help. We play games, sing songs, and create crafts that you can actually use. We explore and we work on developing a childʼs natural curiosity of the environment. Often itʼs as simple as letting a child pick a leaf or flower at the creek and letting them crush and smell it or lifting a rock to see what bugs are underneath. I am in awe of campers who listen intently about watershed problems and decide theyʼd like to spend time picking up trash around the zoo. Campers also go behind-the-scenes to learn how keepers care for the animals and much more.

What are some other things that make working the entire summer at the zoo so much fun? For one, I enjoy seeing my campers grow, sometimes several inches from one year to the next. I take pleasure in truly getting to know parents who love camp as much as I do. I also love meeting new campers who have not been to our camp before. They are enthralled by the activities and animal encounters that are unique to the program. I am fortunate to work for a Camp Director who fully supports my curriculum and craft ideas, among other things. In addition, I benefit from working with many different types of people with biology, zoology and education backgrounds. Ultimately, I love seeing
kids really enjoy learning without knowing thatʼs what theyʼre doing.

All together, ZooCamp is so much fun kids can’t wait to come back each summer…and neither can I!

Scientists for dinner?

by | May 26th, 2010

Sometimes working late is awful, sometimes it’s awesome!

Education Specialist Sarah Powers teachs students about trade in endangered species products, like this tiger pelt.

On May 5, as most zoo keepers and admin staff were packing up and heading home, the Conservation and Education team were packing up animals and headed to the Snow Building.  We were helping host “Dinner with a Scientist,” an annual event sponsored by Oakland Unified School District.

The goal is simple: inspire bright students to remain interested in science by exposing them to a variety of scientific careers.  Middle and High School students were selected by their teachers to attend a very special catered dinner, where a different scientist arrives at the table with each course!

From the nametags I saw, there were chemical engineers from CAL Trans, physicists from Lawrence Berkeley Labs, and of course our own Conservation Manager from the Oakland Zoo.   During the meal, scientists give an overview of their job, their educational background, and answer questions from the students.  Dr. Parrott, Executive Director of the Oakland Zoo (and veterinarian) gave the key note address.  Since most young people have limited knowledge of the career options available if you enjoy math or science, an event like this can be really eye opening!

Education Specialist Sarah Cramer introduces students to our Yellow Naped Amazon Parrot.

This is the first year the Oakland Zoo served as the venue for this event and our goal was to give the students, scientists, and teachers a warm welcome–which means animals!  After registration, guests were invited meet a Yellow-Naped Amazon, a Common Chuckwalla, a California Desert Tortoise, an Indigo Snake, and a Ferret.  It was very fun for us to meet the guests and share a information about our animals and the zoo.  Both the students and the scientists asked very good questions about our animal ambassadors.

The good news for us it that we get to do it all again for elementary school students on June 2nd!

Meeting Zed and Zalu in Uganda

by | April 19th, 2010

The best shot I could get with my point-and-shoot camera.

Walking through the forest on a dirt path, keeping our voices low, following Fred Babweteera and hanging on his every word to learn about this place, we saw them.  Sitting a hundred yards in front of us, right on the path, two brothers: Zalu and Zed.  My first wild chimpanzees!

With a group of eighteen wildlife enthusiasts from the Oakland Zoo, I had traveled to Uganda to have this amazing experience.  We were in the Budongo Forest, a rare treat since this area is designated for research, not tourism.  Fred and the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) staff were very generous hosts for us, because the Oakland Zoo sponsors their Snare Removal Program.  Each September, through a lecture and silent auction, we raise over $8000 to keep these chimpanzees safe.

Amy Gotliffe meets the Snare Patrol team.

Zalu and Zed’s story explains why these chimpanzees need help from halfway around the world.  Their mother, Zana, had both hands permanently deformed from trap injuries.  This is not uncommon among the Sonso chimp group, since illegal snares set to catch wild pigs and duiker also catch, but rarely kill, chimpanzees.  Zena died in 2007, leaving both boys orphans before they were really old enough to enter the male dominance hierarchy.  Luckily, Zalu proved to be a good caretaker for younger Zed and the brothers are doing alright for themselves.

You can learn more about the snares set in Budongo Forest from our YouTube video!

To learn more about the Oakland Zoo’s support for BCFS, please visit

To learn more about Zalu, Zed, their neighbors and protectors, visit

ZooCamp Goes Global

by | March 9th, 2010

For over twenty years, the Oakland Zoo’s summer day camp has built strong connections between children and wild animals, but two years ago, we decided to go deeper.

Every year we put a different zoo resident on our camp t-shirts.  Usually it’s a new animal or someone who got a new exhibit, but in 2008 I was stumped for what to choose and opened a contest for zoo staff.  Keeper Julie Hartell-Denardo nominated our Cotton-Topped Tamarins with a very convincing “Top Ten” list of why tamarins were awesome.  On her list was Proyecto Titi, the conservation project working to save Cotton Tops and their habitat in Colombia.

A Teen Assistant and camper sit enraptured at Titi Time.

Her list made an obvious suggestion—why not deepen ZooCamp’s commitment to conservation education by supporting an in situ project ?  Reaching out to Proyecto Titi was easy, because the Oakland Zoo Conservation Fund has given small grants to the organization for many years.  We raised camp fees by $1 and designated those funds as a donation to the project.  We raised awareness for the project by putting their logo on the back of our camp shirts and created “Titi Time”, a 45 minute multi-media presentation about Cotton Topped Tamarins and Proyecto Titi (at camp, this took the form of a slideshow and skit, complete with instructors in the roles of both researchers and tamarins!)

One long standing camp tradition has been to send kids home with a “gift” on Friday afternoons. To further support Proyecto Titi, we bought friendship bracelets from Asoartesanas, a womens artisan co-op created in Colombia by Proyecto Titi.  These entrepreneurial women take the plastic bags that were litter, wash and shred them, then crochet the plastic strands into colorful and functional bags called “Eco-Mochilas.”  For ZooCamp, they created bracelets emblazoned with “Titi”!

Our first summer conservation partnership was a huge success.  We felt that the 1200+ children who attended ZooCamp made a deep and meaningful connection to a conservation project, and Proyecto Titi received $1400 from ZooCamp!

A ZooCamper sports their 2009 t-shirt.

In 2009, we were excited to continue this new tradition and selected the Hornbill Research Foundation of Thailand as our partner.  With our own Wreathed Hornbills on the front of the t-shirt, we put the HRF logo on the back, again we donated $1 per camper and had “Hornbill Hour”. In addition the teen eco-trip traveled to Thailand and got to visit Pilai Poonswad, premiere hornbill researcher, in person!

In an effort to increase our donation, we created an incentive program.  For a $3 donation, campers received a “golden” coin featuring our ZooCamp t-shirt design and the zoo’s logo.  This proved highly successful, with an astounding 70% participation rate.  In the end, we raised $3000 for HRF!

Even though it’s a summer program, running ZooCamp really is a year-round job.  We are already deep into planning for ZooCamp 2010, and ARCAS has already agreed to be our conservation partner!

Who will grace our shirt this year?  Think of the largest resident of the RAD Room and you’ve got the answer!

Learn more about ZooCamp 2010 at our website! Registration for ZooCamp 2010 begins for Zoo Members on 3/15; on 3/22, registration for Non-Members begins.