Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

From Oakland to Africa – Diary of a ZooKeeper

by | January 15th, 2015

A common approach to see in many modern movies is the protagonist country-hopping. It’s so exciting, so romantic. One moment our hero is in Japan, following a corrupt business man about to complete a huge transaction. The next, she is in the Colombian jungle looking for a rare artifact. A quick caption at the bottom is our only hint that we have now shifted location thousands of miles. As I boarded my first of three flights to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, it was this globe-trotting theme that was surging through me.

My first flight from San Francisco to Toronto was delayed by over four hours, due to*two* planes having mechanical issues and each having to be switched out. I had a 5.5 hour layover in Canada, so it wasn’t that big of a deal- I spent the time in SFO instead of YZZ. Additional boarding delays did make me have to run to my next flight to Addis Ababa, but there was a problem with most passengers’ tickets and so we were delayed boarding as they went through each ticket, one-by-one. Then the plane had to be de-iced. Our 12.5 hour flight was delayed by 2 hours and it left me 10 minutes to get from one gate to the second in a non-Western airport. Three African business men and I were lead very quickly through the crowded airport. When we reached the gate, could see our smaller plane still waiting…and were told the flight was closed. The businessmen exploded with anger, the airline staff snidely told us they had called our names, but we hadn’t answered. While I wasn’t feeling sleepy at this point, my body was so exhausted and the thought of spending 24 hours in the crowded airport until the next flight to Kinshasa made me want to push past the attendants and run onto the plane in a hysterical manner. If this were a movie, surely the villain would have fed my love interest to a pit of crocodiles by this point, tired of waiting for me to show-up.

Hotel Room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

View from my hotel room in Addis Ababa. The city is developing quickly, so huge buildings are going up right next to slums like this one.

After another two hours standing in a customer service line (with the dozens of people who had also missed Ethiopian Airlines’ flights), one of the businessmen was next in line to be helped. He told us to give him our passports and tickets, then went up to the counter. A young seminary student traveling to Kinshasa to visit her sister had also had a delayed flight to Addis Ababa, so she got in on our group approach as well. Thirty more minutes passed. Finally, he returned with a voucher for a hotel room, meals, transport and one free 3-minute phone call. Everyone in our groupseemed much calmer at this point, but I was more than that. I was completely elated. I had forgotten I had any other purpose in life other than to be alone in a quiet room where I could sleep in a bed, so I was feeling quite accomplished.

 

My Christmas meal in Ethiopia. Orange liquid is an Ethiopian honey wine that is very sweet and tasty.

Following a 3 minute phone call to Kinshasa which consisted of, “Stuck in Addis Ababa, be there tomorrow, sorry, bye!” I slept for several hours and then the missionary student, Miriana, and I decided to go out on the town. We asked the front desk for recommendations and they sent a woman with us to a restaurant with live performers. Ethiopia is a very old Christian country and they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, which just happened to be that day! Everyone was out in beautiful garb, the restaurant was packed and full of life.

Ethiopian dancing consists of a lot of short, small movements. A series of different dance groups came out, each with a different style and some with singers. Our hostess helped us to order food and explained the history of different dances and songs. There was so much color and beauty, I really fell in love with Ethiopia that night.

After a restless sleep (my body had no idea what time it was or what it was supposed to be doing), I packed up the few things from my carry-on (luggage was unaccounted for at this point) and went to breakfast. I had begun to suspect the reason they hadn’t  let us on the flight the day before was because there were too many people booked for it. Well over 20 people were staying at our hotel, all of them missed connecting Ethiopian Airlines flights due to the fault of the company. If this happened daily, they were bound to get backed up. Also, now knowing it had been a national holiday explained why it was just so crowded in Addis Ababa’s airport.

This realization made me very nervous that morning, as all of us delayed flyers needed to get to the airport, preferably long before boarding time so we were assured a seat. At breakfast, people were talking and in no hurry. But I’m an American: I’m antsy, nervous and overzealous about being on time. I decided I was just going to go sit on the van, a couple of the businessmen I had befriended the day before had the same idea. My fears were realized when the van left several flyers behind, assuring them that another van would be along soon. Our van raced along, swerving precariously between other vehicles (including oncoming traffic). I was in the back along with two Congolese men who worked for a wildlife conservation organization in Kinshasa. We had to move our seat forward to fit luggage behind us, but the seat was not secure on the track now. When we stopped quickly, our seat would squish us forward. When the driver gunned it to cut someone off, we should quickly slam backwards. One of the men proclaimed, “Our seat is not serious. We will soon be in the street.”

We made our flight and the plane was huge, not the typical two-and-two-seat rows for most flights between African countries. This plane was the type used to fly across continents and oceans, so I again suspected they had overbooked yesterday’s flight and were trying to get back on track today.

Welcome banner and sign made for me by Pasha, the head groundskeeper. Also, one of the lucky dogs taken in by the sanctuary.

The four-hour flight was uneventful. When leaving the plane and getting on the tarmac, I was greeted by a man with a sign, “TWOROSKI, NATASHA-MARIE BONOBOS,” who had been hired by the sanctuary to get me. He took my baggage-claim tickets and I went through customs. After a nightmare of trying to locate my bags, I was on my way!

French is the main language of DRC and I had attempted to listen to “Learn French in Your Car” CDs before I left. This has turned out to have been well worth the effort and I regret not investing more time into it. My driver drove me through traffic for an hour through very crowded Kinshasa to get to a point where I would be passed along to a driver who worked directly for Lola ya Bonobo. It was not that far, but the traffic made it a nightmare. This is the fourth major African city I have seen (including Kigali, Kampala and Addis Ababa), but the poverty level is clearly the highest in Kinshasa. So many buildings that were probably once hotels or businesses are now rubble, with collapsed walls and no roof, homes to those who have none. The other big cities I have been to have varied in their approach to cleaning-up roads (Kigali was spotless), but Kinshasa is different than all of those. Trash upon trash builds up on the roads, with homeless children, feral dogs and general poverty everywhere.

At this point, the traveling and lack of any solid sleep was catching up to me. I didn’t have any water, I had a headache, I was almost in a fatal car accident approximately a dozen times. It was one of the moments where you start to think, “Why? Why did I want this so badly?” The driver and an escort from Lola ya Bonobo were in the car and speaking very fast French, mostly like gossiping from the few words I caught. Then the escort leaned forward and said, “Madame Natasha, Welcome to Lola!”

Instant change of emotions. I cannot properly describe how quickly the habitat changed from traditional rural African roads to entering a jungle oasis. Lola ya Bonobo truly lives up to its name, http://www.lolayabonobo.org/ “Paradise of the Bonobos.” The center of the sanctuary, which hosts the offices and living quarters, is built on a large, green hill that is beautifully maintained by the staff. A large archway made of vines and decorated with flowers had been constructed for my arrival, it included a welcome sign in English (which I was later to learn required some effort by Pasha, the head groundskeeper).

My home during my stay at Lola ya Bonobo.

I was brought to my room, which was considerably nicer than any place I’ve stayed at in Africa, and given a quick lunch. The rooms are spacious, well-decorated and each even has a wall air-conditioning unit for when there is electricity (although mine has yet to work).

Soon, I was greeted by the manager of the sanctuary, Fanny. Fanny’s mom is Claudine Andre, the brave woman who started the sanctuary in 1994 in the midst of a violent civil war. Like her mother, Fanny is kind, beautiful and gracious. As I spoke with Fanny, every frustration and annoyance I had felt left me. It was finally time for me to meet the bonobos.

Check back here tomorrow for another journal entry on my adventures in Africa!

-Natasha

 

 

 

 

Western Pond Turtle

by | December 2nd, 2014

 

What happens to conservation when the water runs dry???

Thoughts by Ashley Terry

western pound turtle

Western Pound Turtle

The Western Pond turtle (or WPT as we refer to them around the zoo) is the only freshwater aquatic turtle native to California. Traditional habitats range from Baja California to British Columbia, but in recent years that habitat has begun to shrink due to habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native species into their environment. They are now extinct in British Columbia, critically endangered in Washington and endangered in Oregon. Here in California, they are considered a species of special concern.

 

turtles

The larger of the two turtles was head started, the smaller not. Both are the same age.

Each nesting season, Oakland Zoo and Sonoma State students and biologist spend a month tracking, marking and monitoring gravid female WPT’s and viable nests at our field site in Lake County. This is the sixth consecutive year that zookeepers have spent in Lake County, and to date, we have successfully Each nesting season, Oakland Zoo and Sonoma State students and biologist spend a month tracking, marking and monitoring gravid female WPT’s and viable nests at our field site in Lake County. This is the sixth consecutive year that zookeepers have spent in Lake County, and to date, we have successfullyraised and released close to 450 turtles- each season yielding around 45 hatchlings or more – through our head start program. Check out this cool video of the WPT at the Zoo. The goal of the Head Start program is to raise the hatchlings for the first year under optimal conditions. By creating the best possible environment for the turtles, they grow 3-4 times faster than they would in the wild.  At the end of the first year, the juvenile turtles are then released back into Lake County, having grown too large to be eaten by common predators like big mouth bass and eastern bull frogs.

 

Lake County Field Site

Lake County field site

WPT’s live in typically riparian habitats where they can most often be found in sloughs, streams, and large rivers, although some may inhabit bodies of water such as irrigation ditches and other artificial lakes and ponds, too. Turtles are generally active from late May to October. WPT’s overwinter, or hibernate, in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Terrestrial overwintering habitats consist of burrows in leaf litter or soil. In more wooded habitats along coastal streams in central California, most pond turtles leave the drying creeks in late summer and return after winter floods.

 

Drought ridden lake

Drought ridden lake

California has experienced continuous dry conditions since 2012; alternatively known asdrought.  According to the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 99% of California is currently abnormally dry; 67% of California is in extreme drought, and almost 10% is experiencing exceptional drought.  The repercussions of our drought emergency are relatively simple: there is an extreme lack of water.  The absence of water impacts Californians in several different ways, whether it is economically or socially.  But how does it affect the state’s wildlife or our conservation projects here at the zoo?

western pond turtle hatching

Western Pond Turtle hatching

hatching size comparison

Hatchling size comparison

Those involved with our Head Start program have noticed that the last few drought years in the field have been incredibly stressful on the Lake County turtles in several distinctive ways. In some less permanent waters, such as our field site, the fact that the ponds have dried up completely for the first time in many years has certainly affected the behavioral patterns of WPT in some key ways, thus affecting the numbers of gravid turtles and viable nests sights during our field seasons. Since the ponds dried up by July and August of the last 2 years, the turtles were forced to estivate – spending a hot and dry season in an inactive or dormant state – when they would normally have been feeding and stocking up their internal reserves of protein and fat. The extended time they spent in this state of “suspended animation” also leaves them much more vulnerable to any manner of disturbance – especially in the case of predators, temperature extremes, etc. Lastly, and maybe most important for our head start program, the non-permanent lakes & ponds were dry when the turtles should have been feeding and mating. This was reflected in the very low numbers of nesting females last summer, giving us only 4 hatchlings this season.

 

Although these impacts of drought do indeed bring about urgent circumstances for wildlife, it is important to remember that droughts are, unfortunately, natural phenomena. Climate scientists predict that California will get even hotter and drier. As more of the state’s precipitation falls as rain instead of snow in the mountains, it will run off the land more quickly, ending up in the ocean. Scientists say that with global warming, we’ll see more instability in California’s climate, with more intense storms, longer dry periods, and less snowpack. It will be interesting in the upcoming future to see how long it takes to get back to the normal population numbers at our site, and to track the behavioral changes due to impact of habitat change. In the meantime, we are also looking at other possible locations where population numbers can be monitored. Wildlife and drought have coexisted for generations upon generations. For the most part, wildlife populations are able to bounce back from drought events once typical weather patterns return. For the time being, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a very wet and rainy winter, resulting in turtles returning to our pond.

western pond turtle basking

Western Pond Turtles basking

 

 

 

Visit http://www.saveourh2o.org/tips to find out how you can help save water at home, and http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Conservation.php to find out more about Oakland Zoos conservation programs.

 

Oakland Zoo ZooKeepers in the Field in Madagascar!

by | November 20th, 2014

AWE!

Awesome is really the only way to describe Centre ValBio. The Brain Child of Dr. Patricia Wright, it is a state of the art research center located steps away from Ranomafana National Park. The raw beauty of the native flora and fauna of Madagascar surrounds you from every angle. At the same, time, the Centre has two floors of dorm rooms and several state of the art laboratories for researchers and study abroad students from all over the world. The sheer amount of research that is possible here is staggering, and the hard working staff atCentre ValBio make the most of it! There are also several satellite camps out in the forest where researchers and students can stay while doing observations. The Centre, however is home base, with electricity, Wifi, and hot showers right on the edge of the Park. One of the few places where primary forest still survives, you can easily run into several species of lemurs on one morning hike.

We were fortunate enough to have Dr. Wright give us a personal tour of a small section of the forest on our first day here.. She showed us her first campsite in the forest some 28 years ago, when she first discovered a new species of lemur. That lemur, the golden bamboo lemur, just happened to be the first one we saw in the wild in the forest – and we saw it with her! On the first trek, we also saw sifakas, red bellied lemurs and red fronted lemurs. We even saw black and white ruffed lemurs, which are not often found in that particular part of the forest.

Slash and BurnBamboo lemur

Centre Val Bio

One of the most striking things I saw on the trek, however, was not the lemurs, but the interactions between Dr. Wright and the locals. Ranomafana National Park is becoming more and more an eco-tourist site, similar to the model used in Rwanda with mountain gorillas. Most recently a French Colony, French is the most common language spoken outside of the native Malagasy which makes it a Mecca for French tourists. We must have run into at least 10 tour groups that day. My French is rusty, but I am able to speak enough to converse and understand most of what was said. Dr. Wright knew every single guide by name! She stopped to speak with each of them and they all made a point to introduce her to their tour groups as the founder of the park and the discoverer of the golden bamboo lemur. They were undeniably proud of her and their forest and cared deeply about the animals that inhabited it. One group had never heard of her, but after the guide explained who she was and how important she was to the park, they lined up to take their pictures with her.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most people survive on less than $2/day. That poverty was evident on the 10 hour drive we took from the capital city of Antanarivo (simply called Tana by the locals) to the Centre. However, Dr. Wright has done everything in her power to transform this area. Conservation is not just about research, it is also about the people.   The construction of Centre ValBio has brought jobs, education, and even electricity and clean water to the local town of Ranomafana. Logging has all but stopped in the area and though the slash and burn agriculture is apparent all around, more and more locals are finding employment not just at the Centre, but at local luxury hotels that are popping up in the area, bringing even more money into the local economy. Dr. Wright brought us to her Women’s Weaving Centre where the women make their own money by weaving the most beautiful scarves and bags out of cotton and a locally produced silk. In the center of Ranomafana, you can buy perfectly crafted baskets, woven placemats, and carvings made from sustainable wood.

Women Weaver signWeaver

While it may have been the lemurs that brought her here, Dr. Wright has improved life for all of the local inhabitants – human, animal, and plant. She is an inspiration. Earlier this year, she became the first woman ever to win the Indianapolis Prize for Conservation. She jokes that it is fitting that someone who studies matriarchal primates be the first woman to win that prize, but the truth is she deserves it either way! Dr. Wright’s work is the epitome of a well-rounded conservation program and Oakland Zoo is proud and honored to be a part of it.

Bison – Princes of the Prairie

by | October 24th, 2014

Basic CMYKGreetings fellow conservation heroes – Zena the Zookeeper here.

Knock- knock!
Who’s there?
Purse.
Purse who?
Purs-onally, I think bison rock!

I don’t know about you, but I just l-o-v-e jokes! The sillier the better. But you know, you can actually learn quite a bit from some jokes. For example, these jokes are all about American Bison – a fascinating animal that was once just about extinct. Take a look and see what you can learn.

Question:  What do you call a bison sunbathing on the beach in Miami?
Answer: Lost!
True Fact: It’s true, a bison at a Miami beach would be lost! There are two races of American Bison, plains bison that usually live in open grasslands in the Central United States, and wood bison that live in forests and tree-filled park-lands in the Northern United States and Canada.

Question: How do you know when there’s a bison under your sleeping bag?
Answer: When your nose touches the ceiling of your tent!
True Fact: Yup, because bison are the largest land mammal in America (they can be up to 6.5 feet tall at the shoulders and 12 feet long), you would know for sure if one of them was hiding under your sleeping bag. Your nose would definitely touch the ceiling!

Question: What time is it when a bison sits on your shovel?
Answer: Time to get a new shovel!
True Fact: This joke tells us two things. A shovel is no match for a bison, because female bison can weigh over a ton, and males can weigh over two tons. Also, bison hooves dig into the soil like a shovel when they walk around. This helps break up the soil and prepare it for seeds to fall in and grow.

Question: What did the mother buffalo say when her son went to college?
Answer: Bi-son!
True Fact: Although buffalo and bison are actually two different kinds of animals, in the United States, people often call our American Bison by both names. Take a look at the two pictures and see what differences you notice between a Buffalo and a Bison.

Man, those just crack me up every time! And see how you learned something while you were laughing?

Be sure to come out and visit the zoo on Saturday, November 1. We’re celebrating National Bison Day, and I guarantee you’ll have a great time watching our beautiful bison and learning all about these incredible Princes of the Plains.

Find out more about Oakland Zoo’s bison herd by clicking the photo above, or by clicking here.

See you then!
Your friend, Zena.

Bay Area Zookeepers Host Art Gallery Fundraiser

by | October 16th, 2014
Bay Area AAZK members have a good time while raising money for animals in the wild.

Bay Area AAZK members have a good time while raising money for animals in the wild.

Oakland Zoo is not only an advocate for conservation, but also for quality captive animal care and zookeeper professional development. With major assistance from Oakland Zoo every year, the Bay Area Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) has had great success fundraising money for conservation. One of the most successful fundraisers is a part of AAZK’s national fundraiser, Bowling for Rhinos (BFR).  This event is celebrated by various AAZK chapters across the country to raise money for the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the International Rhino Foundation, and Action for Cheetahs in Kenya.  In addition to BFR, the Bay Area Chapter fund raises to help support local and international conservation organizations such as the California Condor Recovery Program and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. This year, Bay Area AAZK set out to raise a minimum of $15,000 for conservation and professional development and today’s total stands at just over $14,000.  The chapter has one more fundraiser this year to exceed this goal.

paintings for DTPC fundraiser

Animal Painting that will be available for auction at Bay Area AAZK event.

Bay Area AAZK will be holding its first ever Art Gallery Fundraiser to raise funds for the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee (DTPC).  DTPC is dedicated to establishing preserves for California and Nevada’s state reptile, researching the species, and educating the public.  The Art Gallery Fundraiser will display various types of art, from paintings created by animals to beautiful animal and nature-inspired photographs.  Donations will be raised via silent auction.  The event will be held at the Oakland Zoo in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium beginning at 7:00pm on Saturday, October 25 and will end at 10:00pm. The cost is $10.00 at the door.  All ages are encouraged to attend and help BAAAZK support the deserving Desert Tortoise Preservation Committee. Monies raised at this event will help DTPC purchase additional land, which will be turned into preserves for the tortoises. Funding also helps DTPC with their education program and guided tours, which provides tours through the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area (DTRNA).  This is a 39.5 square mile tortoise preserve.

For additional information about this event or Bay Area AAZA, go to bayareaaazk@gmail.com.

Oakland Zoo and you taking action for wildlife!

by | October 10th, 2014

Humans long to connect to nature. We are hardwired to be a part of the whole of our habitat, to breathe in fresh air, to sit under the shade of a tree, to awake to birds, to gaze at a sunset, to wonder at stars. In our busy urban lives of cars and offices and computers, we forget this deeply ingrained part of us. When we do get out in nature, we take deep breathes, reboot, relax and reconnect with our simple humanity.

I think we are finally realizing how important this connection is. It is no wonder concepts such Nature Deficit Disorder, Nature Therapy, and Eco-Psychology have emerged. It is no wonder doctors are prescribing time in nature as medicine, those with illnesses are healed with the friendship of therapy horses and dogs, and schools are slowly adopting environmental education into their curriculums. This awakening gives me great hope.

However, modern media brings to us daily sad truths about the condition of our planet. Concepts like the sixth extinction, global warming, habitat fragmentation and fracking have become part of our general knowledge. The ivory crisis, the illegal wildlife trade, the invasive species epidemic and more are making headlines. This bombardment of bad news can give any of us a case of Eco-phobia, or a feeling of helplessness about our future. Some question whether caring or taking action will make a difference.

Yet, it is clear people care. On September 21st when 400,000 people marched through the streets of New York and thousands marched world-wide demanding attention be paid to global warming, it became clear that the citizens of the world care indeed, and that most people who care are ready to transform that feeling into action.

DSCN1903

If I may quote Dr. Jane Goodall, “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” We agree.

Oakland Zoo celebrates these notions in us all by launching our new conservation concept, “Action for Wildlife“. Through Action for Wildlife, we have a clear platform to illuminate the incredible species we share our planet with, communicate their conservation challenges and introduce our partner organizations that are conserving them. We also celebrate the zoo’s own accomplishments using our spectrum of resources to fully support these efforts. Most of all, Action for Wildlife acknowledges you, our community. We aim to engage our visitors, members, students and greater family in joining us to take action for wildlife, and we hope to help inspire actions that make a bigger difference than you can imagine. We believe that our family of 750,000 can make a huge difference in the lives of wild animals.

Just by coming to the zoo, you have taken action for wildlife through Quarters for Conservation, where 25 cents of your entrance fee and a dollar of your membership cost goes to wildlife conservation. Our three new projects, Big Life, Centre ValBio and Ventana Wildlife Society are great examples of outstanding action for wildlife, and each of us can truly help. Big Life supports elephants in Kenya. You can take action for elephants by refusing to purchIMG_1841ase ivory, choosing to avoid circuses that use elephants and supporting elephant conservation organizations. You can be inspired the Centre ValBio in Madagascar and conserve lemurs by avoiding the purchase of rosewood. You can help the California condor, like Ventana Wildlife Society, by refraining from hunting with lead bullets and picking up trash.

 So join us, your zoo, as we embark on a journey that will bring us closer to who we are meant to be as humans. Let’s appreciate wildlife, connect to wildlife and take action for wildlife together.

Please join us on Action for Wildlife Day on Saturday, October 18th at Oakland Zoo. There will be fun, learning, interactive stations, face-painting, a selfie station inspiration for ways that YOU can take action for wildlife. In celebration of this day, two rare experiences will be offered: A tour of  our state-of-the-art Veterinary Center and a real Baboon Experience!