Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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!

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Global March for Elephants and Rhinos 2015: Join us in San Francisco!

by | September 24th, 2015
Join Oakland Zoo and March For Elephants at the global march on October 3rd in San Francisco!

Join Oakland Zoo and March For Elephants at the global march on October 3rd in San Francisco!

Do you want to fight for the survival of elephants and rhinos? Do you want to say no to extinction? Do you want to march and rally? Please join the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER), and be a warrior against the illegal wildlife trafficking trade! On Saturday, October 2nd, 3rd, and 4th the world is coming together to take a stand against the ivory and rhino horn trade in over one-hundred and twenty cities across the globe, including Africa, South America, Asia, and Australia!

Did you know that one elephant in Africa dies every fifteen minutes? And one rhino dies every nine hours? That’s 96 elephants and 2-3 rhinos a

Gina Kinzley, Co-Elephant Manager at Oakland Zoo, handing out "96" pins at World Elephant Day at the zoo.

Gina Kinzley, Co-Elephant Manager at Oakland Zoo, handing out “96” pins at World Elephant Day at the zoo.

day. Considering the estimates for elephants are below 400,000 and rhinos below 18,000 in Africa, they don’t have much time left unless we come together in a global effort and ask for change. To read more about the crisis visit my blog here: http://www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2014/02/10/96-a-day-96-await/. To watch a videos of the previous SF marches look here: http://marchforelephants.org/videos/.

 

March For Elephants, SF based non-profit, lobbying for SB 716 and AB 96. You may have seen some of these fierce warriors tabling at the zoo!

March For Elephants, SF based non-profit, lobbying for SB 716 and AB 96. You may have seen some of these fierce warriors tabling at the zoo!

I have had the pleasure to be a part of March For Elephants, a San Francisco based grassroots organization, consisting of some of the most passionate and fierce advocates I have met, and who care deeply for the survival of elephants. This group of warriors has been working since May of 2013 to raise awareness of the crisis and organize and advertise the upcoming march in San Francisco. This year they became an official 501c3 non-profit organization run solely by volunteers. The march was originally inspired in 2013 by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a non-profit dedicated to around the clock care of baby orphan elephants, and who have seen the dramatic increase of poaching in Africa, due to the massive increase in orphans they are rescuing. DSWT supported about fifteen other cities who were marching across the globe, and so many other cities were inspired by their work and passion, over forty cities ended up marching in 2013, San Francisco one of them! That momentum has not died and only continues to grow year after year as elephants and rhinos are still in peril. Over one-hundred and twenty cities, and thousands of advocates are working fiercely on behalf of our beloved elephants and rhinos, and we anticipate the San Francisco turnout to be even bigger and better than last year! Last year we had dozens of NGO supporters, including some of Oakland Zoo’s conservation partners, such as Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Post-march, they have a great line-up of speakers including Ed Stewart, co-founder of Performing Animal Welfare Society, and special youth advocates!

Here’s what to do if you’re interested in attending the San Francisco march:

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos San Francisco 2014. Over 1500 in attendance. Photo courtesy of March For Elephants.

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos San Francisco 2014. Over 1500 in attendance. Photo courtesy of March For Elephants.

Please join Oakland Zoo in support of the Global March for Elephants and

Lobbying and testifying at the Capitol for SB 716 and AB 96. Pictured: PAWS, Oakland Zoo, and HSUS staff.

Lobbying and testifying at the Capitol for SB 716 and AB 96. Pictured: PAWS, Oakland Zoo, and HSUS staff.

Rhinos. Say no to elephants turning into trinkets, jewelry, and status symbols. Say no to rhino horn being used as medicine or a hangover cure. Help us tell China to shut down their carving factories! Help us tell Vietnam that rhino horn has no proven medicinal or hangover cures! Also, don’t forget to call Governor Jerry Brown’s office (https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php) to let him know you support AB 96 a bill that will shut down ivory sales, and SB 716 a bill to prohibit the use of the bullhook,  in California. Governor Brown has until October 11th to either sign or veto. Oakland Zoo has played an active role in both of these bills. Who knows? Maybe we will be celebrating together on march day. See you there!

Scouting Around for Some Adventure?

by | September 18th, 2015

There’s something new happening with Oakland Zoo’s scouting programs. We’ve completely revamped our workshop structure and content to reflect the recent changes in the Cub Scout organization. The four ranks (Tiger, boy in dirtWolf, Bear and Webelos) are still the same, but the requirements for earning them are more straightforward and action-based. The awards themselves are also different. The Scouts earn each of these ranks by completing a series of seven adventures, or achievements. One of the ways a scout can complete these adventures is by attending one of Oakland Zoo’s scout programs. These weekend workshops are offered in both half-day (2 ½ hour) and overnight sessions. For convenience, the half day programs are offered both in the morning and afternoon. These adventures include such activities as scavenger hunts, taking nature hikes to identify plant and animal species, building overnight shelters, using map and compass (even making your own simple compass,) as well as learning about composting, endangered species and how trees fit into our complex ecosystem.
The zoo workshops are structured specifically for one adventure within each of the different levels or ranks: Tigers in the Wild (Tiger); Paws on the Path (Wolf); Fur, Feathers and Ferns (Bear); and Into the Woods (Webelos.) Each of crouching boythe workshops also includes an “Animal Close-up” and a guided tour of the Zoo. Some of the classes visit Arroyo Viejo Creek and others enjoy a hike through various parts of Knowland Park.
These workshops generally cater to scouts within the same den, so all the kids will already know everyone else in the group. Each scout is also working toward the same goal, which fosters more team spirit. Since the workshops can accommodate a maximum of thirty individuals, some of them occasionally include multiple dens. Each scout receives a patch for his participation in the Zoo workshops, and then can later obtain his official new belt loop insignia from the Cub Scouts.
Oakland Zoo also offers a workshop specifically designed for the scouts’ NOVA Award, an extra-curricular award boy in bushesdealing with science, technology, engineering and mathematics that can be earned by scouts of various levels. Here at the Zoo, scouts working toward the NOVA award get the opportunity to study the local ecosystems of the Bay Area– learning about food chains, biodiversity, and predator/prey relationships.
All of our workshops require advance registration but there’s usually plenty of room for everyone. Den leaders who are interested in enrolling their Cub Scouts in any of Oakland Zoo’s scout workshops can visit the Zoo’s website at http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Scouts.php. If you have any further questions you can call our reservation receptionist at 510-632-9525 x 220. So get your Cub Scout ready for some adventure. We’ll see him at Oakland Zoo!

Real Conservation Action!

by | August 27th, 2015

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Greetings, fellow conservation heroes – Zena the Zookeeper here!

Did you know that every time you visit Oakland Zoo, you are taking action for wildlife? Yes, consider yourself a real conservation action hero each time you enter our gates! This is because 25 cents of your admission fee, and one dollar of your membership fee goes to the conservation of animals in the wild. Each year, we choose three new projects to focus on and YOU get to choose where your contribution goes by voting with your token at our two voting stations. Your spare change goes directly to your chosen project, as well.

Quarters-for-Cons.1 2We are now ending a successful year of supporting Big Life, a project that helps elephants by hiring guards to protect them against the ivory trade. Centre Val Bio in Madagascar that protects the endangered lemur through research, education and community involvement, and Ventana Wildlife Society in Big Sur that conserves the incredible California condor. Check out our new live condor cam in the coastal redwood forest tree where a chick recently hatched!

We are thrilled to soon begin our fifth year of taking action for wildlife with YOU, our community of conservation heroes and we can’t wait to announce our new projects next month. Stay tuned and see you at the Zoo!

Zena the ZooKeeper

Oakland Zoo Supports World Elephant Day

by | July 31st, 2015

On Wednesday August 12th, Oakland Zoo will celebrate World Elephant Day.

World Elephant Day was launched on August 12, 2012, by the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation (ERF), a charitable nonprofit organization based in Thailand, and Patricia Sims, president, producer, and director of Canaz West Pictures Inc., a Canadian-based independent film production company. The ERF was founded in 2002 as a Royal initiative of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand. The Elephant Reintroduction Foundation manages three forest sanctuaries in Thailand where, so far, 93 formerly captive elephants have been successfully released back into natural habitat. Check out their website here: http://worldelephantday.org/. WED-LOGOS-CIRCLE-2014-150x150

If you are familiar with Oakland Zoo then you know how passionate we are about elephants and that for the last 19 years in May have been hosting “Celebrating Elephants Day”, to raise funds for Cynthia Moss, founder of Amboseli Trust for Elephants. This year with our day and evening events we were fortunate to outdo ourselves and raise over $40,000 for the elephants and research team that live in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. We also raised several thousand dollars for Big Life Foundation, a new partner, whom particularly focuses on anti-poaching efforts covering two million acres on the Tsavo-Amboseli border. Amboseli and Big Life work together to protect elephants and other wildlife, making our support of the two a unique and cohesive relationship.

96 Elephants a day are being poached in Africa. Join WCS in support of their campaign and take a stand for elephants!

96 Elephants a day are being poached in Africa. Join WCS in support of their campaign and take a stand for elephants!

We would like to honor World Elephant Day as a way to celebrate with the entire world, as well as dozens of other organizations and zoos across the United States and our partners at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WCS created the 96 elephants campaign, recognizing the 96 elephants a day that are poached in Africa for their ivory tusks. This campaign has been critical in raising awareness of the crisis that is going on with elephants. Last month, they hosted an ivory crush in New York, crushing over 1 ton of ivory. In November of 2013, in Colorado, the United States crushed 6 tons of ivory. I am asked all the time “what’s the point ?”. The point is that as a nation we are making a statement. We are saying that the illegal wildlife trade is unacceptable and we will not tolerate it. And eyes are watching. As a leader in this world, other nations are watching, particularly those that are involved heavily in the trade. In the past three years there have been several other crushes conducted, including in China and Africa. In other countries that that have stockpiles, it is costly to protect and monitor these piles, and they are always at the risk of leaking back into the illegal market.

In the past year there have been many pivotal moments for elephants, both good and bad.

Like the domino effect . . . one country crushes or burns their ivory stockpiles and several follow suit.

Like the domino effect . . . one country crushes or burns their ivory stockpiles and several follow suit.

November: New York and New Jersey both pass a state ban to prohibit the selling of all ivory (some minor exemptions made). Several other states are working on similar legislation including California. Oakland Zoo is a sponsoring organization on AB 96 which currently has passed through the Assembly Floor, and is in the Senate Appropriations where it is weighing the fiscal impact to the state.

January 2015: The Natural Resources Defense Council releases a study conducted by elephant ivory expert Daniel Stiles, revealing that up to 90 percent of the ivory in Los Angeles markets is illegal and up to 80 percent of ivory in San Francisco markets is illegal

California is the second largest retail market in illegal ivory sales in the U.S.

California is the second largest retail market in illegal ivory sales in the U.S.

February 2015: The State Forestry Administration of China implemented a one year ban on ivory imports. Taken with criticism, as the domestic trade and all the ivory that is already within country borders is not being regulated, but maybe still possibly a step in the right direction. If anything, all the momentum rallied by other countries has got China’s attention.

March 2015: A study by CSU professor and elephant biologist, George Whittemeyer reveals and confirms that the estimates of about 30,000 or more elephants a year are being poached. Between 2010-2012, 100,000 elephants were killed. At this rate, elephants will be near extinction in less than a decade.

June 2015: In a speech, Zhao Shucong, minister in charge of the state forestry administration, announced that China would “strictly control the ivory trade and processing, until eventually halting commercial processing and the sale of ivory and its products”. Later that month, WCS hosts an ivory crush in New Yorks Times Square and crushes over one ton of confiscated ivory.

June 2015: Recent news according to the Great Elephant Census, founded by Dr. Mike CHase, founder of Elephants Without Borders, confirms that Tanzania has lost over sixty percent of their elephant population in just three years. With over 100,000 in 2009, they now are only home to about 40,000 elephants. The Great Elephant Census is the first continent wide aerial survey of elephants which will give us a more accurate

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

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

and complete idea of elephant populations in each country.

Overall as you can see in the above list and timeline action is happening! But will it happen fast enough and soon enough so that elephants continue to be witnessed in the wild? Will we be the generation to allow extinction to occur to one of the most beautiful and intelligent creatures on this earth? I hope not. Please come and join Oakland Zoo on World Elephant Day to learn about elephants and take action by signing petitions and writing to your legislators. Don’t forget to wear your grey and you’ll get a special “96” pin in honor of the 96 elephants that die every day for their tusks. You’ll also have the opportunity to see real tusks up close, color a special elephant drawing, and take an elphie in front of our cool selfie station!