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My First “Feasts for the Beasts” Experience…

by | August 12th, 2013

blog3In all my years working at Oakland Zoo I have never attended one of our events in which food is donated to the animals. When the Zoo asked if I was interested in writing a blog for one of these bi-annual events (that have become a tradition over the last decade) I was game. The event – now a tradition – is called “Feast for the Beasts.”

“Feast for the Beasts” is an event that not only allows people to donate fresh produce to the animals but also gives them the opportunity to learn about the creatures that reside here at the Zoo. At first, the event was intended for Zoo members only. However, it became so popular that the Zoo decided to turn it into a public event. People bring bananas, grapes, kiwi, apples, cabbage, lettuce, and other fresh produce for the animals to snack on.

Baboons climbed on poles to get their donated food while meerkats poked their heads into enrichment bags. And while the alligators consumed dead rats, the otters enjoyed their dead fish meal. As the Zoo keepers fed the animals, docents were on hand providing information about those animals. Watching the animals eat their food was fun but it was nothing compared to what happened at the Elephant Exhibit.

The biggest highlight of “Feast for the Beasts” was the feeding of theelephants. Twice a year guests come to the Zoo with their produce to receive a ticket to enter the Elephant Exhibit and spread out food. I was one of the many people who received a ticket. The keepers allowed us the pleasure of placing food virtually everywhere around the elephant habitat. Some people left the food in plain sight (i.e., on top of the rocks) or out of sight (i.e., inside a tube). We turned the dirt/grass area into a luscious, colorful buffet.  After leaving the produce in the exhibit, we waited outside the area for the elephants to arrive.

Waiting in anticipation for the elephants to arrive, I didn’t even bother to think about what was on everybody’s minds as we waited for the elephants to enter. As I looked at the food that we placed inside the exhibit I kept thinking and thinking that this was going to be cool.

Then the elephants finally arrived and wasted no time getting their snack on. Once they spotted something (watermelons, carrots, apples, you name it) the elephants would quickly go in for their beloved sweet treats. Some would eat the food in its entirety while others would munch on it. The elephants also wrapped their trunks around a sponge-like object shaped like a sandbag and they turned over a tub to find more hidden food. No one could stop the beasts from enjoying all of that produce.

We were ecstatic to see the elephants munching on our produce. One person said, “May the melon be with you,” another person said, “Enjoy your fruit salad.” These behemoths ate their food like there’s no tomorrow. And to think all of this happened because the Zoo invited us to be involved in this festive event.

“Feast for the Beasts” is a great experience. It gave me the chance to view the animal feedings as well as become a part of the process in feeding the animals. I was happy to be part of this event and have the experience it provided me.  I hope that the Zoo keeps the “Feast for the Beasts” tradition for many years to come.

Baby Animal Update

by | June 26th, 2013

When a child enters the world it is the job of the parent to make sure that he or she acquires the skills that are needed to survive this wild and unpredictable world. Even though we humans are raised differently from the hamadryas baboons and river otters, there is much that we have in common with them.

Baby-Baboon-2In a move that was made by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) four hamadryas baboons, Martijn (a male), and three females, Maya, Maud, and Krista, have relocated from the Emmen Zoo in the Netherlands to the Oakland Zoo. In addition to having new baboons we welcomed the birth of Martijn and Maya’s baby, Mocha (our first baboon birth in more than two decades). Mocha is the only child in the baboon troop (group).

Baby-Baboon-3Mocha’s upbringing is somewhat similar to raising a child. During her infancy, Mocha will be nursed by Mama Maya before she ventures out on her own (Daddy Martijn is not as hands-on when raising Mocha, but has been seen disciplining her if she gets out of line). Therefore Mocha will stay with her mama for some time. Maya will give her child rides around the Baboon Cliffs Exhibit (where the baboons reside). Maya will also teach Mocha how to eat food properly so that she’ll be able to eat meals such as rabbits and protein-rich insects. Other females in the troop will provide Mocha rides but if she doesn’t approve then she’ll call her mom for a ride. After 10 months, Mocha’s black hair her will change to brown indicating that she is no longer a baby. Once that happens Mocha will be mature enough to stand on her own. (Translation: No more free rides). However, Mocha will not be separated from the troop in the near future, but will find a new family when she is of reproduction age, which is around three to four years of age.

baby-ottersOn February 24, 2013 Ginger, a river otter, gave birth to three male otter pups. Their names are Kohana, Hinto, and Shilah. Under the care of our zookeepers the pups were provided with health and care through weekly checkups and swimming lessons. The river otters can be seen at the River Otter Exhibit. The pups at the zoo have been off exhibit for two months. Now they are ready to make themselves known to the public.

baby-otterAn otter pup is born blind and does not begin swimming immediately until he or she gets the proper care from the mother. After a few months the pup ventures out into the wild and learns how to swim. Initially baby otters don’t know how to swim. Just like us humans we have to be taught how to swim. The mother would show her pup how to swim by dragging/pushing them to the water so that he or she can get used to the water. It may look harsh but that’s how the otter operates when they show their kids how to swim. Once a pup gets acquainted to their aquatic surroundings he or she begins to master the ability to swim by using webbed feet and a streamlined body to go through the water. Once that happens they will be able to hunt and travel in the water for a long amount of time (otters can swim for six hours).

The need to pass on what we learned to other creatures presents a commonality for all of us human and animal alike. Therefore one could say that we are not so different from the hamadryas baboons and river otters.