Archive for the ‘Animal Welfare’ Category

It’s Definitely Summer at Oakland Zoo!

by | July 30th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperGreetings, fellow conservation heroes – Zena the Zookeeper here!

Glorioski it’s been hot lately! We zookeepers spend a lot of time outside, so we really try to remember to always wear a hat, stay in the shade as much as possible, drink lots and lots of water, and move a little bit slower than usual to keep our bodies from overheating. I’ll bet you do the same things on hot days (and if not, you should). Animals in the wild do those same things, too. They rest in the shade, find cool water for taking a little dip and drinking, and they keep their activity level low during the day.

Many of the animals at Oakland Zoo do other things to stay cool, as well, and some of them are a little weird – well, weird to us humans, anyway. For instance, griffon vultures and some other birds will poop and pee on their legs to keep cool – not exactly something most humans do! Other animals, like our Aldabra tortoises, estivate, which means that they go into a sort of sleep during hot weather, like a super-deep nap that lasts for months. Some mammals, like pygmy goats , lose a lot of fur, or shed when the weather gets really warm, so their coats aren’t so hot and heavy. If you see our elephants waving their ears during hot days, they are radiating heat from their ears: this cools down the blood as it moves through their ears first and then circulates through the rest of their bodies (this is how refrigerators work too). Our tigers pant – they breathe quickly through their mouths so the air going in and out will cool the moisture in their mouths. Our hyenas enjoy a cool dip in their water tub!Coolin' off!

Oakland Zoo’s animal keepers do lots of things to help our animals stay cool: we make sure they have shady places to rest in their enclosures, and we keep the doors to their night-houses open so they can go in and cool down any time they want – we even put fans in some of the night-houses.

We also give many of them popsicles to lick or eat. But, these aren’t your ordinary popsicles, though: some of our popsicles are made of fresh frozen juices and fruits, like the ones we make in big trash cans for our elephants; for our tigers, we create special meat and blood popsicles, and our otters get fish popsicles. I’m not so sure I’d like one of those as a snack, but our animals sure love them!We also make sure our otters have nice ice floes in their swimming water, and we use misters and hoses and swimming pits to help some of our animals stay cool. We even make sure our pigs and warthogs have big ol’ mud pits to roll around in and cool off. There is even a group of people (called the Taxon Advisory Group) who work with Zoos to make sure they only have animals that can live comfortably in the climate where the zoo is located.

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As you see, we work very hard to make sure our animals stay cool in the heat and can enjoy the wonderful months or summer. Next time you are here on a hot day, be sure to look around see how many different ways you can find that we are making sure we have the “coolest” animals in town!

 

See you at the Zoo – and stay cool until then!

 

 

 

Connecting Globally for Giraffe Conservation

by | June 26th, 2014
Me and Kayode as I help position him to recieve an acupuncture treatment. Photo by Colleen Renshaw

Me and Kayode as I help position him to recieve an acupuncture treatment. Photo by Colleen Renshaw

Giraffes are magical!  You simply can’t deny it!  I simply cannot imagine a world without giraffes!  What if the only place you could ever see a giraffe was in a zoo?   I remember coming to the zoo as a kid and seeing these gigantic, dinosaur-like animals gracefully moving through their exhibit.  I was fortunate enough to have a family friend that was a giraffe keeper so I was able to feed them and get close to them too.  I still remember how I felt when their giant heads would come down 15 feet, a long strand of drool coming from their big soft lips and floating away in the breeze, their purplish-grey tongue coming out to take the treats from my small hands.  From the time Amy Phelps was a small child, giraffes set the path for her life.   She has always wanted to work with giraffes and has always been drawn to them and now having the great privilege of being the Lead Giraffe Keeper at the Oakland Zoo she has devoted the past 14 years of her life to this majestic species. 

Now imagine if you spent your hard earned savings to take a dream safari to Africa and when you got there you found out that giraffes were so scarce that you may not even see one. Tragically this reality is not that far away. Just 15 years ago, the total number of giraffes in Africa was estimated by IUCN at greater than 140,000 individuals. In 2013, best estimates by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, a leading authority in giraffe conservation, have the Africa-wide population at less than 80,000 individuals – that is a loss of almost 60% – more than half of the giraffe in Africa are gone.

At Oakland Zoo, we focus a great deal on biodiversity conservation and our efforts are only increasing. Today’s zoos and aquariums are doing a lot to combat the terrifying level of biodiversity loss ongoing worldwide by providing knowledge, skills, and resources to projects in the field to enhance our understanding of conservation issues. But we still have to ask ourselves: if we, as human beings, can’t conserve one of the most iconical large land mammals, what future hope do salamanders and insects have in our world today? With all of this effort, surprisingly much is still unknown about giraffes, which has led to many misconceptions that may be impeding conservations efforts. More baseline knowledge is required to better understand how limiting factors – such as hunting and other human-based pressures, amount of protected viable habitat, and even basic giraffe biology – is needed for us to better understand giraffes and how they interact with and are affected by their environment.DSC06557

Oakland Zoo has also long been a supporter of giraffe welfare and conservation, and we continue to make strides in managing this charismatic species. Two of our Lead Keepers have assisted with research projects on giraffe in Africa; and as the Zoo’s Lead Keeper for giraffes and antelope, I sit on the Steering Committee for the Association of Zoo and Aquarium’s Antelope and Giraffe and Ungulate Taxon Advisory Group, helped lead the development of the International Association of Giraffe Care Professionals, and am a Research Associate for the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Our veterinary and giraffe management staff consult caregivers and scientists world-wide on our pioneering giraffe management program on topics such as managing positive-reinforcement based animal training for orthopedic and veterinary care, enrichment, nutrition, and geriatric and neonatal care. Even with all this, the truth is we can always do more.

We are in the beginning stages of training new Behavioral Observation Team volunteers on how to collect scientific behavioral data for a long-term study on our giraffes and eland, which will offer insight into how our giraffes interact socially and engage with their environment. The study has many similarities to data being collected by giraffe researchers in Africa for easy comparison, and to assist in the sharing of the data.

This year, our Quarters for Conservation program is raising funds for the Reticulated Giraffe Project. Reticulated giraffes seem to have taken some heavy hits due to poaching and habitat loss, with the population decreasing more than 80% from 30,000 10 years ago to 5,000 today. Reticulated giraffes occur only in the arid rangelands of north-east Africa and are well-sought after by tourists on safari, but surprisingly little else is known about their biology, ecology or behavior. The Reticulated Giraffe Project, a partnership between Queen’s University Belfast and the Kenya Wildlife Service, aims to address this lack of information by investigating aspects of the giraffe’s behavioral ecology and of the population processes operating upon them. Oakland Zoo is raising funds to support The Reticulated Giraffe Project through various means, and this year you can help by voting for this Project at the Quarters for Conservation Voting Station at the Zoo’s Main Entrance.

It appears EVERYONE is getting into the "Jeans for Giraffes" spirit! Donate your old denim to help conserve giraffes in the wild!

It appears EVERYONE is getting into the “Jeans for Giraffes” spirit! Donate your old denim to help conserve giraffes in the wild!

We are also hosting special activities for the first World Giraffe Day, Friday June 27, 2014. The festivities will begin with a Browse Parade where kids waving the giraffe’s favorite types of tree branches will start their browse march at our Quarters for Conservation kiosk in Karibu Village at the zoo’s main entrance and end at the African Veldt, where keepers will then offer the delicious branches to our giraffe. Zoo guests will also have the very unique opportunity to meet our giraffes during 5 feedings throughout the day! All proceeds from the Oakland Zoo’s World Giraffe Day celebration will go to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to support their efforts throughout Africa. Last but certainly not least, we will be kicking off the new collaborative fundraising campaign called Jeans for Giraffes –bring ion your old and worn denim and recycle in our special reticulated bins around the zoo! The money we gain from recycling the old jeans will go straight to giraffes in Africa!

To learn more about what Oakland Zoo is doing for giraffes and how you can do more, visit our Giraffe Conservation Page on the Oakland Zoo website, and come see us for our World Giraffe Day celebration tomorrow, this Friday, June 27th!  We hope to see you there!

Commissary at Oakland Zoo – the one for the animals, I mean…

by | June 26th, 2014

DSC_0026The daytime diet prep usually takes place in the morning so we have plenty of time pay attention to their details. It consists of the produce diets, meat diets and bird diets. The produce diets are a personal favorite because of how wonderfully colorful they look once done. Some are simple-consisting of only a few ingredients like grapes, apples and lettuce while others are complicated, requiring 9 different types of fruits and vegetables or more. For some of our smaller animals like the coatimundis and macaws individual pieces of their produce must be weighed making for a rather time consuming diet. The Vervet monkeys have a complicated social hierarchy. For this reason we must be careful to make all the pieces of food the same size so no monkey gets shorted which could create a conflict within the group. The heaviest diet by far that we prepare are the elephant buckets. We make we chop and fill to the brim four six gallon buckets with different fruits or vegetables. These can weigh up to 40 lbs and the pieces need to be about golf ball sized. The reason these pieces need to be small is so our elephants are prompted to exhibit natural foraging behaviors like they would in the wild. This is especially achievable if small bits of food are scattered throughout the exhibit or in their enrichment. We use this idea of foraging enrichment with almost all our other animals too.

A giant popsicle I made for the Sun Bears on a particularly warm day last week

A giant popsicle I made for the Sun Bears on a particularly warm day last week

While it can be a bloody and messy job, completing the meat diets is a rewarding feeling. Especially since to get the proper weight, some large pork neck bones must be cut in half! Bones for the tigers, lions and hyenas usually weigh in at around 1.5-2 lbs and our 5 tigers go through nearly 12 lbs of meat per day. I am always impressed by the variety of meat to which our carnivores have access. Not the least of which are ox tail bones, ground turkey, pork bones, frozen chickens, whole frozen rabbits, whole frozen rats, horse loin and even venison on occasion. Nearly every day our big cats and hyenas get bones but the type of ground meat they get changes depending on the day of the week. Our lucky senior Griffon Vulture gets a different type of meat every day of the week but he appears to be most fond of venison. Many of our other carnivorous/omnivorous birds get ground meat, fish and frozen mice in addition to vitamin oils and powders. It’s a stinky job to slice up defrosted smelt for the ibis but they do seem to love it.

Bird diets are another time consuming job taking 2 hours to make but they are well worth it and visually appealing. Over 20 trays are filled with different types of seeds, pellets and produce depending on the aviary they are going into. To make sure our birds don’t get bored we will put in additions like grated cheese, black beans, hard boiled eggs and oyster shell. A large portion of our birds and other animals are partially if not completely insectivores so for this reason we keep and care for live insects in the commissary. Besides, it’s always more soothing to prepare food to the sound of chirping crickets.

With enough volunteer or intern help, the summation of all these diets usually take 3-4 hours to make before they are taken up to the main zoo’s walk in refrigerator.  Defrosting meats, restocking our large fridge, tending to the insect colonies, and lots of cleaning are part of the normal daily duties. Work can be slow and laid back or rushed and stressful but one thing for certain is there’s never a boring day in commissary.

Big News For Big Birds

by | June 2nd, 2014
Condor in Flight

Condor in Flight

Condors are certainly big news at Oakland Zoo right now with the recent arrival of the first two birds at the newly-opened Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center. As you may know, condors are the highly endangered cousins of the vultures that you see in the skies all over California. And like vultures, condors play a vital role in the ecosystem by feeding on the carcasses of dead animals. When these animals are shot by hunters or ranchers, the lead pellets in turn are ingested by the condors. It takes only a tiny fragment of lead to make a condor very ill. These lead-poisoned birds need medical care in order to survive, which is where the zoo comes in. For the past three years we’ve been working with the Ventana Wildlife Society near Big Sur, California, an organization that has been leading conservation efforts to save the California condor for decades. When a sick bird is spotted in the mountains around Big Sur, it’s carefully captured by Ventana’s condor vets and conservationists and brought to our facility. Once here, it’s treated by specially-trained Oakland Zoo veterinarians who provide treatment for the condor until it is healthy enough to be released back into the wild. And you’ll be happy to know that one of the aforementioned birds has already gotten a clean bill of health and has been returned to her home!
But there’s more to our condor program than medical procedures. In April, a small group of young zoo volunteers had the opportunity of attending a special camp about condors. Held at the research facility within the Ventana Wilderness Area, Condor Camp is a 4-day program that lets people observe and participate in the conservation work being done by the Ventana Wildlife Society. This was the first time kids from the zoo (both Teen Wild Guides and Teen Assistants) had the chance to participate in this exciting program. Over the four days they went on a night walk, spotted condors that were feeding on dead seals and sea lions at the Pacific Ocean, and visited the feeding slope and re-release cages used by the staff. They also got to check out the Condor Cam, the remotely-controlled video camera that allows visual monitoring of the birds from the research center. But most exciting, the kids got to use the radio antennas and other equipment to locate the condors, some of whom regularly migrate between Ventana and their other stronghold at Pinnacles National Monument.

Resting During treatment

Resting During treatment

And then there’s Condor Class. An educational program for middle and high school students, this half-day class held at Oakland Zoo is an on-site version of the new interactive Field Biology Workshops. The 20-30 students (from science classes at a variety of local schools) get the chance to use the high-tech tools of biologists, such as telemetry equipment and GPS units to track the birds, which all have ID tags and their own individual radio frequencies. The students practice with this equipment by finding hidden stuffed animals, study condor data gathered in the field by biologists and make scientific recommendations for the birds’ welfare based on that data.
So as you can see, there’s a lot of condor activity going on at Oakland Zoo these days. Although the birds here aren’t available for public viewing, you can be sure they’re receiving the medical care they need to get them back out in the wild as soon as possible, thus helping to ensure their continued success in returning from the brink of extinction!

Moments of the Day: Celebrating elephants everyday!

by | May 14th, 2014

 

Lisa dusting. One of my favorite behaviors to observe. Photo by author.

Lisa dusting. One of my favorite behaviors to observe. Photo by author.

If you had asked me ten years ago where I saw myself today, I probably would have told you sledding with huskies in Alaska or tracking down wolves in Yellowstone . . . after all wolves were my first love and that would have been my dream job at the time. Although they still have a place in my heart, African Elephants trumped those mysterious and elusive carnivores long ago. After my first day as an intern here at Oakland Zoo, I knew I was where I belonged and that was nine years ago.

There are so many things that make my job special . . . the first obviously is that I am privileged to work with these majestic

African elephants love to mud! Oshy doing a great job! Photo by author.

African elephants love to mud! Oshy doing a great job! Photo by author.

and profound giants.  At the end of the day I’m exhausted . . . the job isn’t glamour and all fun like everyone may think it is. The majority of our day is spent cleaning up poop, moving bales of hay, loading tree branches, and feeding. It’s a dirty job but I wouldn’t have it any other way and I’m now more of a tomboy then I’ve ever been (coming from the girl that grew up with Barbie). There’s something special that happens on a daily basis that I like to call “the moment of the day”. The elephants teach me something new all the time, a constant reminder of why they are so extraordinary and why I am here to stay.

 

My favorite “moments of the day” with Donna, Lisa, Osh, and M’Dunda:

  • Did you know that elephants yawn? I don’t see this very often, but sometimes at night and early morning, I get to see a stretched trunk and yawn, one of
    M'Dunda yawns and stretches, the only time I've captured this on film! Photo by author.

    M’Dunda yawns and stretches, the only time I’ve captured this on film! Photo by author.

    my very favorite behaviors.

  • In moments of protectiveness or just sweetness, Donna will drape her trunk over Lisa’s head or body.
  • Elephants use “tools” to help themselves. M’Dunda and Donna will pick up sticks to scratch their ears. Osh will stand on a log to reach a pumpkin hanging up high in a hay net.
  • As part of their greeting ceremony, the females will rumble, throw their ears out, heighten their heads, then urinate and defecate simultaneously.
  • Donna enjoys her time “sunning”. Just today I saw her drift off into a cat nap soaking up the sun.
  • M’Dunda snores!
  • Lisa and Donna love to sleep together, and sometimes with their behinds touching.
  • Sometimes they all get something stuck up their trunks and will contort the base of their trunk in a funny way, just like when we scrunch our faces.
  • Lisa will flip upside down in the pool and scoot her body around with all four feet in the air!
  • Last week, Osh dropped a caterpillar out of his trunk!
  • They all like to scratch their sides and bellies on the rocks.
  • Donna especially enjoys tactile touch and walks through her hanging enrichment every day.

The list could go on and on.

Donna loves touch and enjoys draping her "firehose octopus" over her body. Photo by author.

Donna loves touch and enjoys draping her “firehose octopus” over her body. Photo by author.

Second most importantly, Oakland Zoo allows me to be directly involved in conservation. Through WCS’s 96 elephants campaign (www.96elephants.org) we are getting youth involved, signing petitions, and increasing awareness of the ivory trade. This is a brand new campaign that started in late 2013, symbolic for the 96 elephants a day that are being poached in Africa for their tusks (see my blog for more information, http://www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2014/02/10/96-a-day-96-await/). We also recently began supporting a local grassroots organization, March for Elephants, that we marched with through San Francisco last year to raise awareness of the ivory trade. This passionate army of volunteers dedicate endless hours of their time and are dedicated to promoting global awareness about the elephant crisis, advocating for cessation of poaching in all regions where elephants live, and fiercely working to shut down the ivory trade. Please visit their website (www.marchforelephants.org) for more info and join us in the upcoming march on October 4th!

Girls just want to have fun. Donna throwing her tire around at night. Photo by author.

Girls just want to have fun. Donna throwing her tire around at night. Photo by author.

For the last eighteen years we have been the proud supporters of Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya.  Through our Celebrating Elephants Events (check out www.oaklandzoo.org/Events.php), we have been raising advocacy awareness (for both captivity and the ivory trade), through the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of visitors. To date we have raised over 250,000 dollars which goes directly to Amboseli to protect the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park through their forty year research project. Celebrating Elephants is a lot of work and it takes a great team to pull it off, but in the end it’s more than worth it knowing that we are working to protect what elephants remain in the wild. Knowing that we had a hand in making even the smallest change for one elephant or 450,000 is conservation at its finest. So please come join us on May 17th  (evening event) with special guest speaker Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist at Amboseli Trust, and May 24th (day event) . . . learn a lot about elephants and the way we manage them here at the zoo, see an animal-free circus, get your face painted, and eat cotton candy . . . all in the name of elephants!

It’s “Celebrating Elephants” time at Oakland Zoo!

by | April 30th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperDid you know that Oakland Zoo is the only zoo in Northern California with African Elephants?  We have FOUR amazing African Elephants, three females and one male, and if you know the Oakland Zoo, you know that elephant conservation is VERY important to us! Elephants in the wild are in trouble, and they have been for a very long time. Why? Because they are hunted for their beautiful ivory tusks. Trinkets, jewelry and other stuff is carved from their ivory. Hunting elephants is against the law, but sadly it still happens.

All elephants are individuals and have very unique personalities. This is M'Dundamella, 45 years old with long beautiful tusks.

All elephants are individuals and have very unique personalities. This is M’Dundamella, 45 years old with long beautiful tusks.

Not too long ago, we at the Zoo decided to get even more involved in saving wild elephants than we already are by joining a campaign called “96 Elephants”. 96 is how many elephants are killed in the wild every day for their ivory. But there is good news! There are new laws here in the United States to stop the importing of ivory! Lots if Zoos are banding together to help stop the ivory trade altogether, and you can help too!

Every year, we at the Zoo have a very special event called “Celebrating Elephants”. On May 17th, we have a fun-filled day where you can enjoy and learn about elephants, while helping to save elephants in the wild. The Zoo is home to four African elephants named Donna, Lisa, M’Dunda and Osh, you can read more about them below. On the 17th, you can see them up close by buying a ticket for a special private elephant barn tour! We will also be selling raffle tickets for great prizes and all the money raised will go to helping elephants in the wild through our conservation partner, the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Africa.

Osh, our only boy, is 20 and has been with us since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born with his family group. Young males in the wild get kicked out of their herd from ages 8-12, and that is what Osh’s mom and aunts started to do to him, so we gave him a home here at Oakland Zoo. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, and he loves to play, browse and graze.

Donna is 35 years old and came to Oakland Zoo in 1989. She very quickly became the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls.  At nighttime you will find her having fun playing with the large tractor tires in her enclosure and charging into the pool for a cool-down! Personality-wise Donna is impatient, loves to participate in training, and is closely bonded with Lisa, whom she sleeps with every night. See how and why we train our elephants here!

Lisa is 37 years old and has been with us since she was two years old. She came from Kruger National Park in South Africa and went briefly to a “training” facility for several months then came to the zoo. Lisa is an ‘elephant’s elephant,’ she likes all of her pachyderm friends, and wants to make everyone happy. She loves her pool. We call her our water baby, because she will take daily dips if the weather is right! Want to see Lisa taking a bath? She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

M’Dunda is 45 years old and came to us in 1991. She has a bad history of abuse at her previous facility; which is amazing because she is an extremely gentle soul and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She loves to play with Osh, and is often spotted at night leaning over the fence into Osh’s area, trunk-twirling with him. She can be a little insecure, and scared of new situations. When she first came here she wouldn’t eat her treat boxes! She sure does now, though! She also has long beautiful tusks.

So come to “Celebrating Elephants” on May 17th and see our elephants up close, learn about elephants in the wild, and just have a great  ol’ time!