Archive for the ‘Animal Welfare’ Category

Oakland Zoo’s 20th Annual Celebrating Elephants Event is Coming Soon . . . . Help Celebrate twenty years of Action for Elephants- fundraising for conservation, champions of welfare, and campaigning for protective legislation.

by | May 3rd, 2016
Cynthia Moss, ATE Founder and Director, in the field with Echo.

Cynthia Moss, ATE Founder and Director, in the field with Echo.

May is one of my favorite times of the year. Why? Because we have two full days of celebrating elephants! Not that I don’t celebrate elephants everyday that I work with them, but these two days are unique because we get to meet thousands of visitors and teach them about elephants from how we care for them, where they sleep, what they eat, and the perils they face in the wild. The elephant barn staff spends weeks prepping for this event, cleaning every square inch of the barn and surrounding facility, as well as the 6.5 acres of elephant habitat. We also assist in the zoo wide set-up, helping set up interactive stations allover the zoo, making this a fun and exciting day for our guests. And of course, we are your super stars (besides the elephants!), and will be giving special tours explaining everything elephant. This year you’ll see Jeff, Ashley, Jessica, and Zach and they’ll answer any questions you may have. I am especially excited this year for our evening gala, featuring Cynthia Moss, founder of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. The evening gala team is composed of a small group who are very dedicated and work hard to secure donations and set-up every tiny detail in the Zimmer Auditorium from the tables, to the lights, to the food! We work hard because we know it’s our job as conservationists to help educate our visitors, and to raise funds to directly help our conservation partners. Please, we hope you will join us for the day or the evening, or maybe both, and remember that all proceeds go to protecting the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park.

Here’s what you need to know for the two events: http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Celebrating_Elephants.php

Saturday, May 21st from 6 – 9 p.m., the evening gala will feature special guest speaker, Cynthia Moss; she is a world renowned elephant expert, and director and founder of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE) and Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP).  She will amaze and Inspire with images and stories from over 40 years of studying the

elephants of Amboseli. This gala event is from 6 – 9 p.m. (presentation beginning at 7 p.m.) in the Zimmer Auditorium; tickets are available at the door and at celebratingelephantsgala2016@eventbrite.com.  Ticket prices are

Come wine and dine while bidding on lovely silent auction items! All to help save elephants!

Come wine and dine while bidding on lovely silent auction items! All to help save elephants!

based on a sliding scale from $40 to $100 which, in addition to Cynthia Moss’s presentation, includes heavy hors d’oeuvres, a hosted beer/wine bar, and the silent auction comprised of fabulous items, gift baskets, and gift certificates donated by Bay Area businesses.

 

Saturday, May 28th, all day family fun, elephant activities at the Zoo and are included with Zoo

On Celebrating Elephants Day, you'll get to make fun food filled treat boxes for our elephants and watch them eat it!

On Celebrating Elephants Day, you’ll get to make fun food filled treat boxes for our elephants and watch them eat it!

Admission!  Activities will include hands on experiences such as touching giant pachyderm bones and teeth, stepping on an elephant-sized footprint, participating in a mock research camp where observers watch and record elephant behaviors, and learn to identify Oakland Zoo’s African Elephants, Donna, Lisa, and M’Dunda. Elephant information and interactive stations will abound but be sure to visit the Tembo Preserve station to see drawings of the elephant facilities and learn more about our exciting plans (http://www.tembopreserve.org/). In the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo, visitors are invited to watch

Experience a special behind the scenes and see how the elephants are trained!

Circus Finelli, an animal free circus performance with comedy, acrobatics, juggling, dance and live music with performances at 12 p.m. and 2 pm.  In addition to these events, Celebrating Elephant Day offers the once-a-year chance to go behind the scenes and tour the elephant barn, and see an elephant up close!  Elephant keepers will tour you around the facility to see where the elephants sleep, how they are trained, and explain why they get a pedicure every day! The tours are scheduled every hour beginning at 10:30 a.m., concluding the final tour at 3:30 p.m. and require an additional charge of $10 for adults and $5 for kids under 16; tickets are available at the Flamingo Plaza and the Elephant Exhibit. We also feature an enrichment station where kids can create food filled treat boxes that will be fed out to the

Keepers giving a tour of the barn and explaining training techniques.

Keepers giving a tour of the barn and explaining training techniques.

elephants throughout the day.

All the proceeds from the Celebrating Elephants Events are donated to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants to continue their work and leadership in the research and conservation of African elephants. To date, Oakland Zoo has raised over $300,000 for ATE. To learn more visit   http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Amboseli_Trust.php. Thanks for helping Oakland Zoo take action for elephants!

African Elephant Romance (or in scientific terms “Reproductive Strategy”)

by | February 16th, 2016

Colleen Kinzley, Founding Member Tembo Preserve & Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research Oakland Zoo

Territorial and courtship displays occur in a wide array of species. In some species, individual males have been observed to selectively favor particular behaviors and/or vocalizations, making them unique to that individual male. Male chimpanzees, for example, are known to have particular components of aggressive or territorial displays that they favor and perform more often or even to the exclusion of other display behaviors. Some have even been documented creating their own display behaviors or incorporating some unique part of their surroundings. Many song bird males create unique variations on their songs differentiating them from neighbors of the same species.

African elephants live in matriarchal societies where young males leave their family group in their early to mid-teens. During their late teens and twenties, they spend their social time in loosely formed bachelor groups. Elephants continue growing throughout their lives; males in their teens and twenties are considerably smaller than bulls in their thirties and above, so these younger males typically have little opportunity to breed. Males over 25 years of age engage in periods of sexual activity and sexual inactivity. Periods of sexual activity are simply defined as time spent with females groups. During these periods, males may or may not be found in the company of other males but are consistently seen with female family groups.

African elephants spend much of their time on the move, sometimes walking many kilometers between resources such as food, water, and shade over the course of a day or two. They are also a migratory species, sometimes moving hundreds of kilometers seasonally to take advantage of rain or other resources. For sexually active males, estrous females represent a scarce and mobile resource. Musth is a unique strategy developed by male elephants to increase their reproductive success.

S. Elliott Samburu National Reserve

S. Elliott Samburu National Reserve

Musth and Male Elephants

A bull is considered to be in a state of sexual inactivity when he is not keeping company with females.  In this case, he may be solitary or in the company of other bulls. Alternatively, sexually active males may or may not be in a state of musth. During musth, some individual bulls display unique behavior or behavior patterns just as males of other species are found to exhibit unique behavioral displays.

 

Characteristics of Musth

Musth is a physiological and behavioral state resulting from highly elevated testosterone levels compared to non-musth sexually inactive bulls. Musth has two outward defining characteristics: urine dribbling and the secretion of glands located in the temporal region of the head. The rate of urine dribbling, characterized by constant seepage from the retracted penis, can be variable but any amount of urine dribbling indicates that a bull is in a state of musth . From a distance, bulls in heavy musth can most easily be identified by the shiny, dark appearance to the inside of their legs, caused by the constant urine spray on their legs,

The constant seepage of urine can result in a whitish to greenish film around the opening of the penis sheath. This urine build up on the legs and sheath results in a distinct pungent odor. Musth temporal gland secretions are thick, sticky, dark in color, and have a strong odor. A bull in heavy musth may have a wide, wet, stain running from the temporal gland down to the lower jaw. Older bulls may develop very swollen temporal glands filling in the normal indentation of the skull above the temporal gland and behind the eye. These swellings increase the size of the forehead making the bull look even larger.

Elephants mating in Amboseli National Park

Elephants mating in Amboseli National Park

Who Exhibits Musth?

The period of time in which males spend in musth lengthens as he ages and continues to grow in size age. Males may begin to show signs of musth in their mid-teens, but in these early years it may last only hours or days and the presence of a dominant male will likely inhibit musth in these younger bulls. The median age for the onset of musth is 29 years old. As males age they typically experience a longer musth period ranging from a median of 2 days for bulls 16-25years to 81 days for males 46-50 years old then declining to 54 days for males 51-60 years old. The consistency of musth periods also increases with age; for young males, their musth period is erratic, and opportunistic. They may be stimulated into musth by the presence of an estrous female then driven out of musth by the arrival of a musth male or other dominant males. As males mature, and depending on their ranking in the population, they will eventually establish a relatively predictable period of musth each year. The most dominant males in the population get the most optimal musth periods, typically during and immediately after the rainy seasons when the largest number of females come into estrous.

An older musth bull will out compete not only non-musth bulls but also younger musth bulls. In most observed matings, the bulls were over the age of 35 years and in musth. Recent genetic paternity analysis of a well –studied population confirms these observations with 74% (88/119) of the calves sired by musth bulls.

Musth is an energetically expensive condition and even the most dominant males in a population typically can only maintain musth for a few months. Musth bulls spend less time feeding, more time on the move, and more time chasing, or fighting with other males resulting in a loss of condition.

 

Female Elephants Choose Mates

Females demonstrate choice through their participation or lack thereof with a potential mate. Courtship begins with urine and genital testing; an attractive female is first followed then chased by a male suitor. Smaller and faster than most males, the female is able to out run the male if she does not chose to stand for breeding.

For females, it is advantageous to consort with musth males and they demonstrate a preference for musth males. For example, during the period of consortship with a musth male, the female is not harassed by multiple, often young, males who are also perusing her. In addition, a musth bull represents a fit male, as only older, healthy males come into musth. The increased levels of testosterone that are characteristic of the musth condition also increase the bull’s fertility by increasing his sperm count, increasing the probability of successful fertilization of the females eggs.

So for both males and females the phenomenon of musth represents an effective reproductive strategy… even if it is not suitable materials for a Hallmark Valentine’s card!

 

Just say Let Me Think Critically for a Moment to Palm Oil – In Preparation for Valentines Day

by | January 28th, 2016

The issue with palm oil is complex and evolving. It is true, forests have been devastated by the clearing of habitat in order to plant the oil palm plant, a plant grown commercially in rain-forests primarily in Borneo and Sumatra. These forests were home to tigers, sun bears, elephants and orangutans. Tragically, the industry poses a threat to these and other species, as much of it uses deforestation practices that are destructive to these animals’ delicate habitat. Ten years ago, biologists and environmentalistzoo grounds green signs 029ts were all encouraging a complete ban of the plant. It would be nice if it were that simple.

Endangered Sun Bear

Endangered Sun Bear

Palm oil is now in over 50 % of packaged goods like food, cosmetics and soap. According to most of the same biologists and environmentalists, it is here to stay, and is now best to use your purchasing choices as power to drive sustainable and responsible practices.

Responsible palm oil is produced without contributing to rain forest or peat land destruction, species extinction, greenhouse gas emissions or human rights abuses. Food manufacturing companies need transparent and traceable supply chains from the plantation where the palm oil was sourced to the final product on your grocery store shelf. There should also be requirements around what palm oil is called on the label, as there are currently dozens of acceptable names that lead to further confusion.

lableOn a bright note, there has also been much progress in awareness and positive action. Many organizations are doing their share to encourage industry change and increase public outreach. The Round-table for Sustainable Palm Oil is a start on the road to doing right, but it is our hope that the standards are increased for companies that produce, trade and use palm oil.

Individual actions truly matter when it comes to helping those sun bears, tigers and orangutans. You can help by reading labels when you shop. Choose products that don’t use palm oil (Palmitic acid, Palm kernel oil, Palm kernel) or that opt to use sustainable “orangutan friendly” palm oil. Explore companies that are part of the Round-table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and learn all you can about this complicated conservation issue.

 

55b53935feed33c4c7ec74ca98405f17

images

 

 

This Valentine’s Day season and every day, use the following lists and smart phone apps to help you be sweet to the beautiful animals that will survive only if humans stop, learn and think critically.

  • Purchase items that do not use palm oil or that use sustainable palm oil only
  • Support companies that have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) by downloading the Palm Oil Shopping Guide for iPhones and Android smartphones. You can also download this cool Palm Oil Fact Sheet for kids too
  • Use your power as a consumer: Write to your favorite restaurants and companies. Let them know that you care about orangutans, sun bears, gibbons and their rainforest home, and that your concern is reflected in products you are willing to buy. Ask them to join the RSPO if they haven’t done so already. We have a sample letter you can use for your convenience
  • Go see wild orangutans, sun bears, gibbons. Your tourist dollars make the rainforests worth more standing than cut down for plantations. Check out Hutan Project and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
  • Write to your local legislators and the President. Ask them not to explore palm oil as a biofuel option. Cutting down rainforests to grow palm oil is not a “green” substitute for gasoline
  • Write to Indonesian and Malaysian government officials. Ask them to preserve their precious natural resources. They are the only countries in the world that have wild orangutans!
  • Get involved in organizations that are purchasing land for conservation in affected areas
  • Learn more at http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Palm_Oil.php

Docent Training: Cultivating the Face of the Zoo

by | December 29th, 2015

docent with skeletal footBack in the 1980s when I was trying to get my first Zoo job, I dreamed up a clever, surefire plan: I was going to offer to work for the Zoo for FREE! I was sure I’d blow them away with my unheard-of generosity and be hired on the spot. Guess what? I didn’t realize that an organization like a zoo has hundreds of volunteers, and in fact couldn’t exist without them. Here at Oakland Zoo these volunteers work in a wide variety of capacities. One of the larger of these groups are the docents. These are the folks you see roaming the zoo, answering questions and giving directions. But their most important function is to teach the public about animals and conservation. Whether they’re leading a tour, staffing an interpretive station, or roaming about at large, the docents have a lot of ground to cover. And that goes double when it comes to the sheer amount of information they need to keep in their heads. Indeed, learning about each of the 145 animal species here at Oakland Zoo takes some doing.
This is where the Docent Training Class comes in. This annual fourteen week course wouldn’t be docents at tablepossible without a team of dedicated teachers and guest speakers. The majority of these speakers are Oakland Zoo animal keepers, whose years of experience and passion for their work make them ideal for the job. Despite their busy schedules, they’re always happy to take time out from their day to address the members of the docent class. They consider this time an investment, since docents make their jobs easier by working with the visiting public, ensuring understanding and respect for wildlife and the natural world.
The core curriculum of the class is taught by docents and instructors from the Zoo’s Education Department, and provides a foundation with basics such as physiology, reproduction, adaptations and taxonomy. The zookeepers serve to augment this curriculum. They typically do a Powerpoint presentation that deals with the specific animals under their care: how old they are and where they’re from; how many males and females in each exhibit, in addition to information about family trees, male-female pairings, and group behavioral dynamics. This biographical information “tells their story” and helps these prospective docents make a more personal connection with our animals, and by extension, helps the public do the same.
docents with feed bucketThese guest speakers also bring a wealth of outside experience to their jobs here at the Zoo, and their stories are a perennial source of inspiration for all our docents. They include people like Zoological Manager Margaret Rousser, a nine year Oakland Zoo veteran who traveled to Madagascar to work with lemurs, assisting local veterinarians in the field. Adam Fink, one of our resident reptile and amphibian keepers, worked as an environmental monitor with endangered toads in Arizona and in the San Diego area. Education Specialist Carol Wiegel works as a wildlife biologist for an environmental consulting company. She also volunteered in Northern Mexico where she studied desert tortoises. Bird keeper Leslie Storer has volunteered at animal re-hab centers as well as the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. And Colleen Kinzley, our Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, spent eight summers in East Africa, docent at QFC kioskworking with the Mushara Elephant Project of Namibia.
These dedicated individuals are just a small part of the team here at Oakland Zoo. If you or anyone you know has a passion for animals and enjoys working with the public, you might want to consider joining that team by volunteering as a docent at Oakland Zoo. In doing so, you’ll become part of a longstanding tradition of wildlife education and conservation. For more information on our docent training, please contact: Lisa O’Dwyer at lisa@oaklandzoo.org or Chantal Burnett at cburnett@oaklandzoo.org.

Understanding Flamingo Friendships: A Study on Social Networks using Oakland Zoo’s Flamingos

by | December 19th, 2015


When you pass through the main entrance of Oakland Zoo, the first species you are greeted by are the colorful and charismatic lesser flamingos. A favorite to many, zoos offer a chance for people to come and see species like these that they may never have had the means to see otherwise. It is through opportunities like these that zoos work to inspire people to learn about and act to save threatened animals. However, an additional goal of the zoo that many visitors may not be aware of occurs behind-the-scenes and that is to be a site for animal behavior and welfare research that might otherwise be impossible to complete.

OZ_Natasha4

Oakland Zoo’s flock of lesser flamingos. Photo by Natasha Tworoski

Doctoral candidate Paul Rose of the University of Exeter reached out to zoos worldwide to create a photo database to decipher how important individual relationships are between members of a flamingo flock. Since zoos use numbered ID bands to keep track of individuals in their collection and we can get much closer to our captive flock than a researcher would be able to a wild one, zoo flamingos offer a great alternative for a study like this. Something that makes our Oakland Zoo flock particularly special? All 16 members are males, which may or may not have an effect on how our birds form relationships.

For six months, Oakland Zoo keepers took pictures of our flamingos three times a day, four days a week to send to Paul for analysis. While this information is valuable from both a theoretical and conservation standpoint, it can also be useful information to those of us caring for the individuals. Like all of us, sometimes our flamingos can get sick or have minor injuries which requires them to spend some time at our zoo’s hospital while they mend. Being social animals, we always make sure to send a few extra flamingos with, so the patient feels more comfortable while he heals. Knowing who is friends with whom among our flamingo flock makes us better zookeepers and prevents us from breaking up important relationships that are a natural part of their life cycle.

OZ_Natasha2

ID bands are placed on the legs of Oakland Zoo’s flamingos to make it easier for zookeepers to track individuals. Photo by Natasha Tworoski.

While Paul will be continuing to collect more data before drawing any conclusions on flamingo relationships, we asked him to share with you a description of his study and why he is asking the questions he is about flamingo friendships. Meanwhile, the keepers may need to consider if they should trade out the numbered ID bands for friendship bracelets.

-Zookeeper Natasha

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

paul flam 3

Paul Rose, flamingo researcher collaborating with Oakland Zoo.

I have been conducting zoo research since completing my undergraduate thesis in 2002, and have always been keen to learn more about zoo animal welfare and how to improve the lives of animals housed in the zoo. I have had a special interest in husbandry and management of giraffe and flamingos, as these can be often “overlooked” in the world of research and scientific investigation. As a member of the UK’s zoo research committee, I help to advise the Bird Working Group. As well as “in zoo” groups, I also have a role on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group and on the Flamingo Specialist Group. I have been investigating the social lives of flamingo since 2012. As one of the commonest of zoo-housed animals, flamingos are an excellent candidate for research into how captivity affects animal behaviour, as the results of such studies have wide application to many hundreds of individuals. Alongside of this PhD work, I also teach university students in animal behaviour and welfare, and conservation.

Flamingos are one of the world’s most gregarious animals. Flocks numbering over two million birds have been recorded, suggesting that relationships between individual flamingos may be important and may have a role in flock structure. It is important to note that gregarious and social can be two different things, and a defined social structure could be missing from these large flock of birds. By defined social structure, think about the hierarchy and highly structured relationships that exist in a troop of gorillas, for example. Research on wild flamingos has posed the following question; because all six flamingo species occur in potentially highly coordinated, highly social groupings, maybe more is drawing them together than simply access to resources found in only one place? The complex displays of the flamingo, as well as its bright colours and range of vocalisations that the birds appear to use to organise themselves, are suggestive of a complex and highly-ordered society where individuals have a specific role or function within the flock.

OZ_Renshaw2

Flamingos feeding together in the water on exhibit. Photo by Colleen Renshaw.

Like the fission-fusion systems seen in some primates, for example baboons, flocks of flamingos move around in smaller groups that come together when the whole flock needs to perform specific actions as a collective (for example when travelling, courtship display and nesting). Such bonded birds often file around after each other or move together in parallel, demonstrating the strength of their partnership. A useful metric to use is a flamingo’s neck length. If one bird allows another into this space, it is suggestive of a stronger, more important relationship. By watching a flock of resting or preening flamingos, it is easy to spot these smaller friendship groups based on the distances relative to each other when compared to other groups within the same flock.

Observing flamingos within a zoological collection can add vital, new information to our grasp of what may be going on in wild flocks, and enhance our knowledge of a flamingo’s friends and relationships. Large groups of flamingos provide a natural setting for close-up documentation of connections between birds. The flamingo flock is a soap opera of arguments, fallings-out, squabbles, marriages, divorces and cliques. New scientific techniques, developed in the field of human psychology can provide a deeper understanding of how these aspects of flock activity play out and affect the fortunes of each individual bird. Termed “social network analysis” these methods provide a pictorial overview of the connections that each bird has, to others, in the group that it lives. By assessing such connections, we can de termine who influences the decisions that individuals make in a flock as well as understanding the quality of life each bird experiences (and how this quality of life is influenced by the birds that it lives with). The lives of wild flamingos can be tricky to follow, although there are some long-running projects out there on wild birds, so by watching the behaviour of captive birds, we get a good idea of how and why flamingo social behaviour works in the way that it does.

Lesser flamingos are considered to be a “Near Threatened” species by the world’s conservation union. They are in trouble in their natural environment due to human pressures on their unique habitat. Zoo-housed lesser flamingos can tell us a great deal about the ecology of the species overall, and if strong relationships exist between captive birds, this may be suggestive of a much more stable, much more structured social system in wild flocks too. Therefore it would be important to manage the long-term environment for lesser flamingos so that when birds move around, and move around with their friends, they are able to be in the same place at the same time and do the same thing as those other birds that they prefer to associate with.

-Paul Rose

paul and flamingos 2

Paul is collecting data from zoos across the globe in order to better understand how these birds form friendships.

 

National Bison Day – November 7, 2015

by | November 3rd, 2015

On Saturday, November 7, 2015, people across the United States and Canada will be rallying to support conservation activity for Bison – North America’s largest land mammal. Their goal? Ecological restoration of vibrant Bison herds to their natural ranges in a scientific and socially responsible way, the appointment of the American Bison as our National Mammal, and establishment of the second Saturday of November as National Bison Day in perpetuity. How can you help? Vote Bison!

 

Some information about the American Bison from our partners at the Wildlife Conservation Society:

THE ICONIC BISON

Bison became a symbol of U.S. frontier culture as the massive herds inspired awe in western explorers and sustained early settlers and traders. Bison were integrally linked with the economic, physical and spiritual lives of Native Americans and were central to their sustenance, trade, ceremonies and religious rituals. Men and women from all walks of life, including ranchers, Native Americans, and industrialists, joined President Theodore Roosevelt in a monumental effort to save bison from extinction in 1905. This grassroots campaign to save bison on small refuges in Oklahoma, Montana, and South Dakota served as the world’s first successful wildlife restoration effort.

 

Bison continue to be an American icon. They are profiled on coins, depicted on the Department of the Interior’s seal and featured on logos of sports teams, businesses and academic institutions nationwide. Three states have even designated bison as their official state mammal or animal.

BISON TODAY

Bison continue to sustain and provide cultural value to Native Americans and Indian Tribes. More than 60 tribes are working to restore bison to over 1,000,000 acres of Indian lands in places like South Dakota, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Additionally, 2014 marked the historic signing of the “Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty,” establishing intertribal alliances for cooperation in the restoration of bison on Tribal/First Nations Reserves and comanaged lands within the U.S. and Canada.

 

They are also an important animal in many sectors of modern American life. Today, American Bison live in all 50 states. Herds provide enjoyment and education to millions of visitors who recreate in America’s great outdoors. Tourists eager to view both public and private bison herds contribute to the economies of rural communities. More than 2,500 privately-owned bison ranches in the U.S. are creating jobs, providing a sustainable and healthy meat source, and contributing to our nation’s food security.

VOTE BISON

Oakland Zoo is asking the public to “Vote Bison” by urging Members of Congress to co-sponsor the National Bison Legacy Act. This act would make bison the United States’ National Mammal, a symbol that will become an American icon, like the bald eagle. To Vote Bison and establish National Bison Day as a permanent day, go to: www.VoteBison.org

After voting, come to Oakland Zoo on Saturday, November 7th to get your “Vote Bison” button, and to visit our own collection of American Bison!

American_bison_k5680-1