Archive for the ‘Animal Welfare’ Category

96 a day, 96 await . . .

by | February 10th, 2014
African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 74% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.

African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 76% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.

This is the number of African elephants that are currently being killed every day for their tusks. In 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants, by 1989 there remained only 600,000. In 1989, an international ban on selling ivory was created which decreased its value and stopped the demand . . . but only temporarily. Many of the countries in Africa have stockpiles of ivory from seizures and pre-1989, and some of those countries were given permission to have one-off sales of those stockpiles to primarily Asian countries, which in change created demand and increased value once again. In the last decade elephant numbers have begun to plummet and now there is an estimated 400,000 or fewer left. That’s a 76% decline in the overall elephant population, and over 3/4‘s of the forest elephants that live in Central Africa. If rates continue at this level elephants may be nearing extinction in ten years.

The tusks or ivory of an elephant is a very desirable material and the only way to obtain the tusks of an elephant is to kill them. Due to a growing middle class in China and the ivory being used as a symbol of “status quo”, the demand for ivory is at an all-time high. The estimated cost per 1 kg (2.2 lbs) is $1800.00 US dollars. If an average female elephant has about 10 kg of ivory, than

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

each elephant is worth $18,000.00 dollars, and that’s wholesale. The retail value of 10 kg can be sold for $60,000 dollars! The incentive is paramount. The money that is being generated by wildlife trafficking is a 7-10 billion dollar industry, which ranks fifth globally behind trafficking in drugs, humans, oil, and counterfeiting. Even worse, the trafficking is dominated by well-organized syndicates that operate as transnational criminal networks and often participate in other illegal activities, including trafficking in narcotics and weapons, and some have links with terrorist networks. Visit my blog for more information on the history of the trade (www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2012/03/14/of-tusks-and-terror-the-truth-about-ivory/).

Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.

Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.

Shockingly, besides Asian markets, the United States is in the top ten nations to import ivory. Much of this trade is legal under a confusing set of U.S. regulations that perpetuates black market sales of illegal ivory. Simply put, pre-ban ivory or “legacy” ivory is still legal to sell, but once the illegal ivory gets into these countries, the ivory is almost impossible to differentiate. Although permits are required for proof of the ivory being legal, they are easy to manipulate and fake. New York is the number one market, and San Francisco the second biggest market in the U.S. So sad, and so close to home.

Ask yourself this: Can I live in a world with no elephants? Here are some reasons why elephants are so important to this world.

Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants.

Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants. Photo by author.

Elephants are a keystone species. Elephants play a very important role in their ecosystem, clearing away brush that therefore creates a clearing for other species, making available food sources for those species available. They also dig for water, creating pools for other animals to drink from. Without them, other species cannot survive.

  • Earth’s constant gardeners. Through their “digested leftovers” elephants are seed dispersers, helping to replenish their habitat, and regrow food sources for other species.
  • Complex beings. Elephants are extremely intelligent, emotional, and complex beings, living in a matriarchal society the females are bonded for life. The matriarch whom has had years of training and information handed down from her mom, plays a critical role in the herds survival. Often the matriarchs are being killed first for their larger tusks, creating broken herds, who are having a much harder time surviving without her. Elephants have self-awareness, and also mourn their dead.

How Oakland Zoo is helping.

Oakland Zoo has always been on the forefront of supporting elephant conservation awareness as well as advocacy for elephants in captivity, promoting natural history and behaviors through proper management. Amboseli Trust for Elephants (www.elephanttrust.org), led by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss, have been one of our partners for eighteen years and through our annual Celebrating Elephants Day and Evening Lecture we have been able to raise over 250,000 dollars over the years. This money goes straight to the project, helping support their research as well as protect the elephants in the park.

We are proud to announce a new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society through their campaign called 96 Elephants. The “96” campaign is on board

Welcome Oakland Zoo's new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society's 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.

Welcome Oakland Zoo’s new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.

with the Clinton Global Initiative, CGI, who announced their commitment in September of 2013 with a plan, “Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants” which includes other NGO partners and nation leaders. Along with over 111 partners, many of which are AZA Accredited institutions, “96” plans to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. Collectively zoos play a powerful role in conservation efforts.  With so many resources at our fingertips as well as a very large audience of visitors it is our job to do what we can to help support organizations that are fighting for the survival of hundreds of threatened species. Through collaborative efforts with world citizens, partners, and change makers, this campaign will focus on: securing effective United States moratorium laws; bolstering elephant protection with additional funding; and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis. We are excited to be joining this campaign and look forward to collaborating with such a hard working group of people.

Oakland Zoo will help the 96 Elephants campaign through the following ways:

  • Financial support: Stopping the killing of elephants is critical but cannot be done without more financial support to the rangers that are there to protect them. Boosting this support will help increase numbers of guards, provide them with high tech tools such as drones and live cameras to track poachers,
    Specially trained sniffer dogs accompany rangers to help stop ivory trafficking. Photo copyright Ruth Starkey/WCS.

    Specially trained sniffer dogs accompany rangers to help stop ivory trafficking. Photo copyright Ruth Starkey/WCS.

    and hire specially trained sniffer dogs to find smuggled ivory in ports and trading hubs.

  • Awareness: Educating the public is critical in creating the connection between ivory consumption and elephant poaching. In tabling at the zoo, I have personally found that many people thought that an elephant shed their tusks just like teeth! Media promotion through live news, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to promote the campaign is crucial in spreading the word about the crisis.
  • Legislation: Oakland Zoo will make every effort to support and promote online petitions and letter writing campaigns. We will also help support working on legislation for moratorium or ban on selling ivory right here in California!

How you can help.

  • Don’t buy ivory!
  • Go online to www.96elephants.org to read more detail about the campaign and elephants.
  • Donate to the campaign.
  • Sign the petition, and participate in letter writing campaigns. So far, over 113,000 constituents have taken advocacy action and sent a combined 196,000 emails to Congress, President Obama, and Secretary of the Interior Jewell.
  • Promote the campaign through your blog and social media channels
  • Talk to your friends and spread the word about what’s going on.

Please do what you can to help elephants, nothing you can contribute is too small! Remember, another day . . . another 96 await.

Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!

Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!

 

Please join Oakland Zoo for our 18th Annual Celebrating Elephants (www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=800). Saturday May 17th at 6pm in the Zimmer Auditorium, Dr. Vicki Fishlock, Research Associate of Amboseli Trust for Elephants will be our inspirational guest speaker. Dr. Fishlock will present her experience working with African elephants as part of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. Silent auction items to bid on and refreshments to dine on. Saturday, May 24th from 10am to 4pm will be our day long zoo event, which includes barn tours with an opportunity to see Oakland Zoo’s cutting edge management, create treats for the elephants, and watch Circus Finelli, an animal free circus. All proceeds go to ATE.

The Lions of Oakland Zoo…Sandy & Leonard

by | February 7th, 2014
Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

 

If you’ve been to the Zoo, you’ve likely seen Sandy & Leonard, lounging around in their expansive exhibit, soaking up the sun or enjoying some animal enrichment their loving ZooKeepers so carefully laid out for them earlier that morning. Their presence is awe inspiring, to say the least. It’s hard to believe it has been almost one and a half decades since they arrived here as cubs at Oakland Zoo.  Many people don’t know the history of these two- siblings, actually- so we’d like to share their story with you.

They were the first rescued lions to be placed in a zoo by the Houston SPCA. It was July, 2000 in Crockett, Texas.  Police entered a suspect’s property on an unrelated warrant and found 14 exotic cats and a wolf. Houston SPCA seized all the animals and was given custody of them after the owner had been found to have cruelly treated the animals: depriving them of necessary food, care, and shelter. Two of the cats were 4-month old lion cubs; they were starving, dehydrated, flea ridden, and their coats were patchy and dry.  The Houston SPCA provided them with housing and veterinary care and a month later, they arrived to us, via Continental Airlines, here at Oakland Zoo.

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Thus named “Sandy” and “Leonard” the two resided in our Veterinary Care Center while they gained weight and strength. At the time, the Zoo already had an established lion pride, so a separate outdoor holding area was constructed adjacent to the existing lion exhibit, called ‘Simba Pori’.

As the cubs grew, ZooKeepers began plans to introduce Sandy and Leonard to our four resident mature lions, Victor, Marika, Sophie and Maddie. In January 2001, Sandy and Leonard moved up to the lion night house. The introduction and integration of the lions had moderate success. The youngsters did well with our adult male, Victor, and one adult female, Marika, but the other two females did not appreciate their presence.  As with domestic cats, you never know how felines will get along! We took our cues from the lions’

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

behaviors and decided to manage the lions as separate groups. Over the years, in 2010, the older lions succumbed to age-related illnesses (2 from kidney disease and 2 from cancer). So, today, Sandy and Leonard have taken ownership of the lion exhibit, the night house, and the hearts of staff, ZooKeepers and guests alike.

While their beginnings in the exotic animal trade surely could have destined them to a life of cruelty, we were fortunate to have been able to provide them with a safe and forever home here at the zoo.

Conservation On-Site: The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog

by | January 29th, 2014

As you visit Oakland Zoo this winter and spring you may notice that the animals and projects we are supporting at our Quarters for Conservation booth in Flamingo Plaza have changed.   I would like you to pay special attention to the developing partnership with the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog project.   This project teams up Oakland Zoo with San Francisco State University in bringing awareness to and supporting the recovery of this critically endangered species that is found right here in the mountains of California.

Yellow-legged_frog_Point_Reyes

Once one of the most numerous species found in their alpine habitat in the Sierra Nevada, Transverse, and Peninsular ranges they are now one of the rarest despite this habitat being found in some of the most well-managed and inaccessible areas of the state.    During some of the initial research looking into this decline the focus was on the impact and removal of game fish that were introduced to their alpine habitats, such as trout.   The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog evolved in a habitat where such efficient predators were not common and the eggs, tadpoles, and frogs themselves became easy prey.  With the management and removal of these introduced fish species some areas showed rapid recovery of frogs.    However, some did not, and in fact the overall population continued to decline.    The emerging disease known as the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) was found to be the cause of this continued decline and was attacking the frogs during one of their most sensitive transitions in life, the one between tadpole and juvenile life stages.    The chytrid fungus works by attacking the keratin in the skin of juvenile and adult frogs preventing them from being able to use their skin to respirate and exchange water leading to their deaths, wiping out whole populations.   For some reason the disease does not affect the tadpoles of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, but it will remain with them through the several years they spend as a tadpole.    This makes the tadpoles, along with several other frog species that are not affected, a means to not only infect their own kind with this deadly fungus, but to make it almost impossible to eliminate from the environment.

With this revelation the focus to save the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog changed to not only manage and remove non-native fish, but to support the frogs in gaining resistance to the chytrid fungus during this transition in their life.   The support comes in the form of a bacterium called Janthinobacterium lividum.    The bacteria was discovered on the skin of a fellow amphibian, the red-backed salamander, and later discovered to also be present on the skins of Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog in varying levels.   This bacterium has the unique feature of having anti-fungal properties and when found in greater numbers on amphibian skin can help to increase resistance to the chytrid fungus.    Now, in steps Dr. Vance Vredenburg and the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog Project.   Dr. Vredenburg has been pioneering skin bio augmentation treatments using Janthinobacterium lividum to support juvenile frogs that are being rereleased or will be re-released into their habitats in both Northern and Southern California.     Through a partnership with San Diego Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, and soon Oakland Zoo, San Francisco State University is hoping to tip the balance for these frogs by collecting them as eggs from their habitat, hatching them in captivity, raise them to juvenile frogs, treating them with this anti-chytrid bacterium, and release them back into their natal ponds and streams.   It is hoped that not only will this prove to provide long term resistance to chytrid, but will be naturally passed between frogs as they naturally congregate together in the shallows off the banks of the rivers and lakes they live.

If you are interested in learning more about the plight of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and supporting them as well during their most vulnerable transitions you can join us on Wednesday February 5th at 6:30 p.m. in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium at our Conservation Speaker Series event when Dr. Vance Vredenburg joins us to discuss his work with the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and the implications his research has to save this and potentially numerous other amphibian species worldwide.

 by Victor Alm, Zoological Manager

 

The Majestic Elephants at Oakland Zoo…

by | January 21st, 2014

Often, we at the Zoo are asked about the history of our majestic and beautiful African elephants. In her blog below, Gina Kinzley, Oakland Zoo Elephant Keeper, shares a little of the history and personalities of Donna, M’Dunda, Osh and Lisa. Now that you know them a bit more intimately, come to the Zoo and say hi! You can also see how Gina ‘trains’ our elephants to for situations involving medical procedures, foot-maintenance, and mental stimulation exercises in this video, filmed recently.

The African Elephants of Oakland Zoo:

All of the girls come from Africa originally, but their families were killed in a culling. Culling is the very controversial method of population management. At that time, the young orphans were caught and sold for profit, which is how they ended up in the United States. I won’t name the previous facilities that they were all at, but all of them have a history of abuse in ‘free contact’ management. At Oakland Zoo, we practice ‘protected contact’, as we explain is for the safety of the both our elephants and their keepers, in the HBO documentary “Apology to Elephants”.

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Donna, 34, came to OZ in 1989. She very quickly became the the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls and loves to have big play bouts at nighttime with large tractor tires and will charge 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.elephantpedi

M’Dunda, 44, came to OZ 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 solicit play from Osh, and is often spotted at night over the fenceline 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 also has long beautiful tusks.

Lisa, 36, has been at OZ since she has been 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, and will take daily dips if the weather is right! She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

Osh, 19, has been at OZ since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born and 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 act toward him, so we gave him a home here. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, loves to play, browse and graze.

At Oakland Zoo we care deeply about the well-being of elephants in captivity, as well as their conservation in the wild. Currently 96 elephants a day in Africa are being killed for their tusks, or ivory. Now that you’ve learned about how intelligent, unique, and beautiful our elephants are here at the zoo, please visit www.96elephants.org for more information on how you can help elephants in the wild. This issue is very important to us, and increasing public awareness is a priority. Stay tuned over the coming months for more information about the fight against the illegal ivory trade and the work of www.96elephants.org.

Food favorites: Pumpkins, Melons, and Pineapples. Want to feed our elephants? Come to our next Feast for the Beasts event on March 29th!

 

 

Fulong Means Forest: Our Time with Sun Bears

by | January 3rd, 2014

Time with Bears:

Fulong means forest in Lundayieh, a tribal language in Borneo. A tiny sun bear cub, the smallest of all bear species, was found in the forest by a hunter’s dog and brought to the master who gave him the name Fulong.  The man kept the bear in a cage as a pet — but when he found out he could give her a better life, he relinquished her to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where we sat this morning in rapt attention as Gloria, the head of education, told us the history of some of the beautiful sun bears at the centre.Bear2

Sun bears and the work of Siew Te Wong was our inspiration to embark on a conservation expedition to Borneo in the first place. We have been in full support of his efforts to give a wonderful home to sun bears that all have a different conservation back story. This new center is right next to the Sepilok Orangutan Center and sure to be a hit. Many visitors to Borneo know about Orangutans, and now many will know about this amazing bear.BearGifts

After six years of helping Wong work as the founder and raise funds for this center, it is a THRILL for our group to be here to help them get ready for their soft opening to the public in January. After a survey of our skills and their needs — Gloria and I put together a schedule – and we rolled up our sleeves and got to work!IMG_7531

What a day we are having! In the rain and heat, one group is moving gravel with shovels and wheelbarrows, watching for venomous snakes and tiger leeches. Another is in the bear house, chopping diets of banana, papaya, green beans – and heating an oatmeal-like super nutritious bear meal. Some even enjoy cleaning the night houses in this sparkling new facility.IMG_7523

Carol and Jereld are off with Ling Mai to set up camera traps. We then work with her to create a matrix for observing bears which we will try out this afternoon. Diana then helps create a program to illustrate the data that will be gathered. Carol and Rob sit together at a laptop editing copy for the educational signage for hours and hours, quite happily. Tina then gives her ideas around signage design. We hardly want to break for lunch, but we do, ‘cause it is hot and we have worked up quite an appetite.IMG_7650

After lunch with the bear staff, Lovesong and Mary go off with the bear keepers, exchanging stories and ideas on how to best care for a sun bear. A crew works with Gloria to envision the visitor center’s future displays and interactives. Another crew gathers around Ernie to discuss the gift shop and other ways to bring in extra funds to the program. Apparently t-shirts and postcards are the big sellers, but creativity is flowing. I get to download about education programs, volunteer positions and conservation action and messaging. I also got the pleasure of taking portraits of the staff for their website.
IMG_7658As the afternoon rolls along, I feel so fortunate to have gotten to be here on this day atthis time in the center’s history. What a joy to share what we could with them, and how inspiring to meet this talented and dedicated staff who shared so much with us. We are all lucky, especially bears like Fulong!

 

Deep Dive

by | January 2nd, 2014

I live for a night like this. It is a perfectly warm and still after an evening rain, there was a beautiful sunset and a magnificent full moon, we are on a gorgeous island in the Celebus Sea. How can this be my last night in the wilds of Borneo? Visiting Mabul Island has been the cherry on top of an expedition that went beyond my greatest expectations. Today, we got to truly witness the wonders of the oceans. Some of us went scuba diving, but most of us snorkeled in the reefs and outer islands around Mabul. It is no-wonder this area around Sipidan Island is rated as a world-class dive site.IMG_4907

Some of the group had never seen such underwater wonders and it was a joy to witness the reactions, such as “I’m in a fish tank! “ and “how can this be real?”. Indeed, there were fish of every color, shape and size, like cigar fish that seemed to stand on their tails, bobbing up and down as they moved, parrott fish who you could hear munching on their lunches, lion fish and harlequin sweetlip fish, peacock rabbit fish and even a ray. You cannot help but respect the ocean after you have seen the wild beauty of a coral reef world.

I am so happy that Intrepid Travel, our travel company, chose Scuba Junkie’ Mabul Beach Resort as our place to stay, because on top of the beauty of the habitat, we got to learn about their excellent conservation work. Roan, their conservation manager, gave us an impromptu presentation on the challenges facing sharks due to shark finning and all that they are doing to help with Project AWARE. IMG_4897

We were so inspired, that late this afternoon we spent a few hours combing the beach for garbage. The island is challenged by this issue due to garbage washing in from the open sea, and to the many nomadic people who are currently living on the island. Scuba Junkie is working with them to do better when it comes to throwing away garbage – and it made me think of the challenges on my own street in Oakland, California – not so very different. Joining them in their beach clean-up efforts felt great.IMG_7871 IMG_7849

It is late and most of the group has lumbered off to bed. We spent the night in joyful competition with other divers in a trivia night that raised funds for the victims of the typhoon (we did not win). We also gave toasts to a wonderful expedition.  Toasts were made to the rain, to the orangutans, to the sun bears, to the leeches, to the ocean, to the forest, to our incredible luck at viewing wildlife, to the flying squirrels, to the inspiring people and to the feeling of having been part of something that only happens once in a lifetime. I toasted to Oakland Zoo, for employing me to help wildlife in Borneo and around the world and for allowing me to give others the gift of experiencing the wildlife first hand. It’s been another deep dive conservation expedition that changes lives.