Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Zoo Docents: Developing the next generation of inspiration

by | October 11th, 2013
Docent with Animal Skull

Docent with Animal Skull

These days, forty years is a long time for something to last—unless it’s made out of cast iron or granite. But that’s almost how long we’ve had our docent program here at Oakland Zoo. I was still in high school back in 1974 when the first docents headed out into the Zoo, ready to greet the public. Since then, the Zoo has grown tremendously and we’ve seen more than 400 enthusiastic men and women join our team of volunteer educators over the years. Right now, we’ve got almost 90 on board. And I can’t imagine this place running without them.

Inspiring a Young Zoo Visitor

Inspiring a Young Zoo Visitor

But what exactly does a docent do, you might ask. Docents, in the same way that ambassadors represent foreign nations, are the vital link between the public and various educational and scientific institutions. Often operating with limited funding, many of these organizations couldn’t function properly without a team of these volunteers. You see them at museums, science centers, historical sites and, of course, zoos. They handle a variety of tasks, including leading tours, answering questions, and assisting people in need of help. But some of their contributions are a bit more ethereal. They inspire. They enlighten. They connect people with things they may not have been exposed to before. You might say docents help create the next generation of supporters and in some cases, future employees.

So what does it take to be a part of such a team? How do you become a docent here at Oakland Zoo? If you’re outgoing, enjoy working with the public and have a love of animals, you might be just what Oakland Zoo is looking for. But like anything else worth doing, it takes commitment and a bit of work.

Docent Training Class

Docent Training Class

It all starts with the application process, which can be initiated through Oakland Zoo’s website. Once your application has been accepted and a background check is complete, you attend an orientation before you begin the training. Our comprehensive 15-week docent training class provides prospective docents with a solid background that includes an overview of the Zoo’s animal collection, conservation efforts, zoology and taxonomy, customer service and interpretive training. The training is a collaborative effort between education department staff, zookeepers and veteran docents. In those 15 weeks, you’ll get classroom instruction, special lectures, as well as homework assignments, quizzes, and presentations. There’s even a mentoring program to provide one-on-one assistance.

 

Once you’ve passed the final exam and graduated, you’ll officially be an Oakland Zoo docent. After that, you need to fulfill a minimum requirement of 70 public hours of service per year as well as earning 4 credits of continuing education by attending lectures, classes, etc. But since our docents find the work so rewarding, most of them enjoy contributing even more time to the Zoo.

Have You Met our Beautiful African Elephants?

by | September 27th, 2013

zena-the-zookeeperDSC00426 [800x600]Did you know that Oakland Zoo is the only zoo in Northern California with African Elephants?  We have FOUR amazing African Elephants, three females and one male, and although they look similar, to us animal keepers their personalities are about as different as up and down.  As sweet and sour.  As football and bowling. As … well, you get the picture.

All of the girls come from Africa originally, but sadly, they became orphans and were sold to Zoos in the United States when their families were culled. Culling is the very controversial method of population management. They had sad and difficult beginnings in life, but now they all make one big happy family! We zookeepers do our very best to make sure of that each and every day – we love our elephants very much! All four have such unique and fun personalities, so what’s not to love?!

Osh, our only boy, is 19 and has been with us since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born with his family group. Young males in the wild get kicked out of their herd from ages 8-12, and that is what Osh’s mom and aunts started to do to him, so we gave him a home here at Oakland Zoo. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, and he loves to play, browse and graze.

Donna is 34 years old and came to Oakland Zoo in 1989. She very quickly became the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls.  At nighttime you will find her having fun playing with the large tractor tires in her enclosure and charging into the pool for a cool-down! Personality-wise Donna is impatient, loves to participate in training, and is closely bonded with Lisa, whom she sleeps with every night. See how and why we train our elephants here!

Lisa is 36 years old and has been with us since she was two years old. She came from Kruger National Park in South Africa and went briefly to a “training” facility for several months then came to the zoo. Lisa is an ‘elephant’s elephant,’ she likes all of her pachyderm friends, and wants to make everyone happy. She loves her pool. We call her our water baby, because she will take daily dips if the weather is right! Want to see Lisa taking a bath? She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

M’Dunda is 44 years old and came to us in 1991. She has a bad history of abuse at her previous facility; which is amazing because she is an extremely gentle soul and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She loves to play with Osh, and is often spotted at night leaning over the fence into Osh’s area, trunk-twirling with him. She can be a little insecure, and scared of new situations. When she first came here she wouldn’t eat her treat boxes! She sure does now, though! She also has long beautiful tusks.

All four of these wonderful beasts just love pumpkins, melons and pineapples. Come to our next “Feast For the Beast” event in the Spring and you can bring some produce and place them around the elephant habitat yourself!

Until next time, see you at the Zoo!

Marching for Elephants . . . Join Us!

by | September 27th, 2013
M'Dundamella, 45 years old, with long beautiful tusks. Will her wild-counterparts survive if they keep being poached for their tusks?

M’Dundamella, 45 years old, with long beautiful tusks. Will her wild-counterparts survive if they keep being poached for their tusks?

If you haven’t seen a flyer around town, or a kind face at a table in front of the elephant exhibit at Oakland Zoo to spread the word, I am here to tell you about a very important event that is coming soon. The International Elephant March, created by the iWorry campaign at the Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, is going to be held on October 4th worldwide! The Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, or DSWT, is a non-profit who takes in all of the orphaned elephants that lose their mothers and families to the devastating poaching that is currently taking place. There are over one dozen official DSWT sponsored cities that are taking place in the march, and because there are so many people that care, there are now an additional twenty cities worldwide that are hosting a march as well, including San Francisco. Ivory poaching is nothing new, in fact in 1979 there were still 1.3 million African Elephants living, but by 1989 well over half of that population was wiped out due to a demand for their ivory, or tusks, which left a remaining 600,000. In that same year, a ban on selling ivory in Africa was created, which significantly helped to halt the trade. Elephants were left to be in peace . . . mostly. What remained were stockpiles of tusks in many countries in Africa, and with the unfortunate decision to allow a few countries to conduct a one-off sale of these stockpiles, opened up the floodgates.

In China, a sign of wealth is to own ivory, and due to a growing middle class, there is a high demand.

A photo of an ivory and rhino horn confiscation in Hong Kong in August 2013. Ivory is now worth 1,000 dollars per pound.

A photo of an ivory and rhino horn confiscation in Hong Kong in August 2013. Ivory is now worth 1,000 dollars per pound.

With gangs of poachers who are getting more and more sophisticated with their artillery, corrupt African governments, and the high demand from China,  elephants don’t stand a chance . . . unless we come together and make a change. Slowly, the issue is receiving more press and getting attention from politicians and movie stars. Prince William, David Beckham, Yao Ming, and Leonardo DiCaprio are just a few. The Clinton Foundation are strong supporters of the issue, and President Obama recently has put aside a task force, along with a ten million dollar fund to help stop wildlife trafficking. These are steps, but we need MORE! The more awareness we can create the better, especially amongst youth. When tabling at the zoo, I found that there are a lot of people who think that elephant tusks are just cut off without any harm and that they grow back or that they just fall out like our teeth. This is a huge misconception and according to a study by the International Animal Welfare Foundation that was conducted in China, 70% of Chinese people did not realize that ivory comes from dead elephants. If we can create awareness through social media and campaigning we may have a chance at turning things around for elephants. If we stop the demand, we stop elephants lives from being taken. Currently there are an estimated 400,000 African Elephants left, and conservationists are predicting if we continue at 30,000 plus being killed every year then the species will be extinct in another ten years.

A group of very dedicated and passionate local citizens have joined together to create the San Francisco Elephant March. These people have worked day in and day out, campaigning, writing letters, signing petitions, educating, posting flyers, tabling, and some right here at the zoo! I would like to invite you to join us at the March For Elephants in San Francisco on October 4th at 11am. We will be gathering in Portsmouth Square, marching a peaceful protest, and ending in Union Square to listen to keynote speakers Patrick Freeman, Elephant Field Biologist, Patricia Simms, creator of World Elephant Day, and our neighbor and friend Mr. Ed Stewart, co-founder of Performing Animal Welfare Society. Please visit www.marchforelephantsSF.org for more detailed information. You can register for the march, purchase a t-shirt, and check out the map of the march. Please, I encourage everyone to attend this special event and spread the word about what’s going on with elephants.

Please Join us for the March in San Francisco!

Please Join us for the March in San Francisco!

Ask yourself this, can you imagine a world with no elephants?

Hope for Chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest

by | September 12th, 2013

The Budongo Forest in Uganda teems with a wild variety of living beings, from trees to birds to butterflies to primates. Being there is like being in a jungle dream, where the­­­­­­­­­ musical sounds of the forest seem beyond imagination. One of the best things about being the Conservation Director at Oakland Zoo, is the occasional privilege of visiting such places on our planet.

Along with this privilege comes the knowledge gained around the challenges of sharing our planet. Deep within this lush forest habitat of blue monkeys, chimpanzees, baboons and hornbills- are people, who also need shelter, space and food.

BB-crossing-Royal-Mile

Amy Gotliffe (far left)

Some people living near the Budongo Forest seek their protein from bushmeat, illegally snaring a pig or deer. The snares, made from a thin wire, are nearly invisible against the foliage, and as chimpanzees walk through the corridors, their hands or feet can become trapped in the snares. In two of the forests where chimpanzees are studied, researchers have observed up to 30 percent of chimpanzees are maimed due to snare injuries. More die.

Researchers in the forest name the chimps that they observe: Flora is missing their right hands at the wrist. Kigare, his right foot. Zig’s right hand is badly deformed by snares. Kigere’s name literally means ‘missing foot’ in Kinyoro and refers to an old snare injury which removed her foot at the ankle.

Human-wildlife conflict is an issue here, and all over the world, from chimpanzees and humans in Uganda to mountain lions and humans here in our own habitat in California. The challenges that many species face can feel overwhelming.

Now for the best part of my job: hope. The Budongo Snare Removal Project gives me great hope that compassion and creativity can still reign in the human heart and mind. This project sends teams of two men (anti-snare teams) to locate and remove snares and mark the spot with a GPS devise. An education center reaches out to the local community and provides education around ecology, wildlife and the treasure that is the chimpanzees. A nanny goat program rounds out the project, offering ex-poachers an opportunity to raise milk, meat and money for their families in exchange for a promise to cease the use of snares.

When our Oakland Zoo team of intrepid travelers last visited the project in 2011, we got to experience hope the size of Africa herself. Speaking to an anti-snare team, I learn that Ofen now owns land for his family, as well as 20 goats, and Moses feels he has more knowledge of the forest and sees this work is a source of survival. We spent an exuberant day helping the veterinarian team de-worm over 100 goats that are now owned by sworn anti-poachers, and best of all, we saw chimpanzees. They hooted and called as they searched for fruit and built nests above us for sleeping. Despite some of their injuries, they lived in a forest where people are trying to live in balance with wildlife. They lived in a forest where people, trees, chimps and hope are alive and thriving. Please watch our short video about our chimpanzees at the Zoo and our conservation work in Budongo.

The Oakland Zoo adopted this project in 2001 and the support covers the salaries for four field assistants, two educators, two eco-guards, the nanny goat program and allowances for transportation, bike repair, gum boots, rain gear, backpacks, and compasses. The zoo is the only supporter of this project. We are proud of its compassion and respect for animals, people and the entire ecosystem.

Funds raised at an annual fall lecture and silent auction go toward this project. This year’s event will feature author Virginia Morell on September 26th

Western Pond Turtles get a hand at Oakland Zoo!

by | August 22nd, 2013
zena-the-zookeeperHey there, fellow conservation heroes! Do I have an important conservation program to tell you about today, and it’s taking place right here at Oakland Zoo!  It’s a ‘head start” program for the endangered Western Pond Turtle. These adorable little guys were once plentiful and lived all over the entire West Coast – from British Columbia in Canada, all the way down to Baja California near Mexico.

pond_turtle

But today, they’re only found in a few parts of California, Oregon and a couple of places in Washington State. That’s because they’ve lost a lot of their habitat and are being eaten by non-native predators – including another kind of turtle that isn’t native to California.  It’s really sad. 
 
See how tiny the baby Western Pond Turtle is?  Because they grow very slowly in the wild, it takes them a long time to grow big enough to escape or fight off non-native predators like the American Bullfrog and Largemouth Bass who love to snatch them up and snack on them. The other species bullying these guys is the red-eared slider turtle. Many red-eared slider turtles were once somebody’s pet, but people sometimes release them into the wild when they get too big, and that’s bad news for the smaller, shyer Western Pond Turtle. Our little friend loses out to the bigger guys on food resources and warm spots to lie in the sun in their habitat.
 
But the GOOD NEWS is that we are raising hatchlings right here at the Zoo in our brand-new Bio-Diversity Center!  With our ZooKeepers taking care of these babies with plenty of nutrient-rich foods and veterinary care, they grow in just one year to the size it would take them three or four years to reach in the wild. Then, when we release them into the wild they are big enough to protect themselves and have a much better chance of survival. Right now, we are raising 44 Western Pond Turtles for release next year, and the babies are doing great so far!
 
So remember fellow conservation heroes, please don’t release pet turtles into the wild.  Help keep our lake areas clean, welcoming places for Western Pond Turtles. And be sure to teach others all about the amazing Western Pond Turtle!

Supporting Elephants . . . Worldwide!

by | August 9th, 2013

WEDLOGODid you know that this Monday, August 12th is the second annual World Elephant Day? Here at Oakland Zoo we have been officially celebrating elephants for seventeen years with our annual ‘Celebrating Elephants Day’. This event gives the zoo the opportunity to increase awareness about elephant issues both in captivity and the wild, as well as raise money for the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. On a larger scale, increasing elephant issue awareness is exactly what World Elephant Day is intended to do, and elephants need your help more than ever. World Elephant Day is supported by the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation, located in Bangkok, Thailand. The day’s mission is “ to help conserve and protect elephants from the numerous threats they face; poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict, and mistreatment in captivity.” The Foundation asks us to “experience elephants in non-exploitive and sustainable environments where elephants can thrive under care and protection.”

African Elephants are under increasing threat of extinction in ten years if we don’t act now and stop the ivory trade. In 1979 there were 1.3 million African elephants, now less than 400,000 remain, due to increasing greed of Asian markets. 35,000 were killed last year alone! The endangered Asian Elephant has been suffering from severe habitat loss and fragmented migration routes due to highways and industrial mono-crops (like palm oil). Less than 40,000 remain today.

elephantinpool

Our Osh, taking a bath in his pool

Captivity paints a much different picture. Asian elephants have been captured for centuries, being forced by their handlers to beg in the streets, give ride after ride to tourists, and be used as laborers to help haul logs to clear forests. Don’t let anyone fool you; Asian elephants are not domesticated animals! You’ll also see lots of Asian elephants in circuses, as well as some African elephants, being forced to perform painful tricks, and wear silly, degrading costumes for entertainment. An elephant wearing a tutu is not cute, nor does it create a connection with the general public. It is insulting to this majestic, magnificent, and intelligent species.  By the way, the circus is in town, so please, if you respect elephants as well as other species, do NOT attend the circus.

Hopefully by now, you’re asking what you can do to help!!

There are ways everyone can help, so please help TAKE ACTION! Here are just a few things to get you started:

Study elephants in their “keystone” role in the environment and inter-relationships with plants and animals from which it originates.

Support organizations that are working to protect elephants both in the wild and captivity . . . Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Save the Elephants, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee . . . are just a few.

Do not support organizations that exploit or abuse elephants for entertainment and profit, such as the circus and the movie industry.

Do not ride an elephant . . . whether at the circus, at a park, or in another country. Elephants are not domesticated and were not meant to be ridden, they are wild animals. Saving these species, does not mean riding them. Watching them in their natural habitat participating in natural behaviors in the wild, such as a nice zoo, or PAWS, is being able to truly respect and appreciate them.

Sign online petitions that you come across that will help support elephant causes.

Be an elephant-aware consumer. Do not buy ivory products. Do not buy coffee that is not shade-grown or fair-trade, or products which contain palm oil.

Talk to a neighbor . . . all it takes is one conversation to possibly change someone’s mind if they are unaware of what is going on regarding the plight elephants.

Spread the word by blogging, and sharing links on Facebook and twitter.

Oakland Zoo is proud to be a part of this documentary that showcases the plight of elephants.

Oakland Zoo is proud to be a part of this documentary that showcases the plight of elephants.

Pick one of these actions above and help us TAKE ACTION on World Elephant Day. Try choosing a new action item each week and partake in the battle for

elephants worldwide!

Please join the March for Elephants taking place in San Francisco, on October 4, 2013 from 11am to 2pm beginning in Portsmouth Square. 25 cities worldwide will be participating in this march, all on October 4, to help take a stand for elephants and say NO to ivory. Please visit www.marchforelephantssf.org for more information on the upcoming march, how to be involved, and how you can help.