Author Archive

What Is PBI And Why Should We Know About It?

by | September 23rd, 2011

Victor Alm — Zoological Manager

Whether you agree that it is occurring or not, you have most likely have heard about global warming or the changes in our planet’s climate. But, what many of us associated with the Oakland Zoo may not have heard of, especially since we do not have polar bears in our collection, is an organization called PBI. PBI stands for Polar Bears International, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the polar bear and polar bear habitat through research, stewardship, and education around the world.

Polar bear on ice sheet

Now why would I bring up the terms of global warming/climate change and polar bears together? Well since some of the most convincing and evident examples of a warming climate are seen in the arctic and the arctic sea ice, one of the main habitat components for the polar bear. The two are linked and are running headlong towards each other very quickly and with some potentially devastating results.  Polar bears rely heavily on the arctic sea ice for movement, breeding, hunting, and to a smaller degree denning for the birth of their cubs.   When you combine this with a rapid decline of this sea ice (since the 1980s), due to a warming climate, you start to see the problem and why the polar bear is now listed as a threatened species under the endangered species act.

So, why am I telling you all about this and why should those of us associated with the Oakland Zoo care about climate change, polar bears, and PBI? Polar bears, despite being on the front lines of the climate change debate and often the poster child of the environmental climate change movement are not the only species that could be affected by climate change. A changing climate has implications for numerous species in many habitat types all over the world.

The Lesser Flamingo

For example, the Lesser Flamingo, a species we exhibit here at the Oakland Zoo, are being or will be affected by climate change through loss of or alterations in the size and quality of their wetland habitats.  Flamingos, not unlike the polar bear, are dependent on their preferred environment for food, breeding, and raising their young. Similar stories can be heard about salmon, penguins, sea turtles, and numerous migratory birds. So despite being focused on climate change matters related to polar bears, PBI and the strategies and tips they endorse to help mitigate climate change, make sense and can have lasting effects for a lot of other animals.

To help reach their goal of having a measurable impact in the preservation of the polar bears artic habitat by 2015, Polar Bear International is sponsoring PBI leadership camps.   These camps are reaching out to those individuals who want to advocate personally or through their employer for conservation and sustainable lifestyles that help combat the effects of climate change.  Campers will gain knowledge about climate change and its impacts first hand from scientists, educators, and community members that will transform them into climate change/Arctic ambassadors that are inspired and empowered to make a difference for polar bears and all species that face our changing world.

Victor Alm -- Zoological Manager/Arctic Ambassador

I am lucky enough to be one of those campers and will be attending climate change leadership camp in early October.  I hope to return with the knowledge and drive to get the Oakland Zoo involved in the campaign to educate and make measurable impacts for the preservation of  polar bears and the numerous other species that are grappling with the issue of climate change.   I feel that our world continues to struggle and grapple with the numerous issues that affect wildlife around the globe such as invasive species, climate change, pollution, habitat change/destruction, and exploitation. However, I strongly feel that you do not need to look far and wide to grapple these global problems. Through local efforts and local involvement in these issues we can address and tackle them one small step at a time. I hope that through my own efforts in local wildlife rehabilitation, head starting, and conservation along with recycling and reusing I can lead by example and take one small personal step. I hope through my continuing education on climate change and the messages and action plans that come from my time at PBI camp that I can take another step and bring many others with me.

To learn more about Polar Bears International, Climate Change, Climate Change Leadership camp, and some things you can do to help in this issue please visit   Also please follow me and my experiences at camp by checking the Oakland Zoo Blog ( as well as the camp blog found at the Polar Bears International website listed above.

Here Comes the Train

by | May 11th, 2010

By now, many of you may have come to the Oakland Zoo to experience our newest Australia exhibit. It is almost complete, with more finishing touches on the way; the Grand Opening is July 3rd.   For those of you have not seen it yet, it is our brand new Emu and Wallaroo exhibit that is located on a lush 3.5 acres at the top of the zoo that is accessible by our train.  The train has undergone many facelifts over its history here at the zoo, but this is the first time that the train has immersed guests within an animal habitat, creating an experience unlike any other at the park.   It is not uncommon to see the Wallaroo lounging in the grass a few feet away and Emu roaming by as you  glide through on the Outback Express train.

Wallaroo by Tracks. Photo by Lorraine Peters

Roaming the Hills. Photo by Lorraine Peters

To help you experience Wild Australia a core group of dedicated and specially trained drivers have been recruited.

Shauna, Javier, Ken and RJ make up our train driver core and were hand selected to run the Outback Express due to their enthusiasm for the Wallaroo and Emu along with their work ethic and experience in the zoos Operations department.   Once selected, they teamed up with the animal keepers in charge of the Emu and Wallaroo to take place in a pilot train driving certification course. This pilot program was designed to prepare the drivers for the challenges of working in an active animal habitat and features three main components, evaluated by the animal management department.

The first stage of the program is centered on general preparation and includes research on  identifying individual animals, natural history of the emu and wallaroo, along with learning about how deal with animals in distress.

The second stage of the program is centered on driving the train through Wild Australia and centers around how to handle certain scenarios while driving the train.   Common occurrences the drivers must face are emu or wallaroo on the tracks or in close proximity to the train as well as moving at appropriate speeds within the exhibit to make the keepers and animals feel secure.

The third stage actually takes place off of the train and instructs the drivers in an interactive format on common daily and seasonal behaviors they can encounter with the emu and wallaroo.  This is also the time where drivers are shown how to interact with the animals appropriately if it becomes necessary to get off the train and move an animal off the tracks or away from an entrance gate.

So far the certification program has been going well and our drivers along with the emus and wallaroos have been doing great traversing their new stomping grounds.   Next time you are on the train make sure to let the train drivers know what a great job they are doing.

The OZ Train Drivers. From Right to Left (Ken, Shauna, Javier, and RJ)