Archive for the ‘Employee Spotlight’ Category

PBI Leadership Camp — Blog 5

by | October 22nd, 2011

Absolute Commitment – A Group blog

Victor Alm – Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

Patty Young – Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Philip Fensterer – Oregon Zoo

Jennifer Funk – Pittsburgh Zoo

As we wrapped up our week out at the Tundra Buggy Lodge we spent our last full day in lecture bringing our time on the tundra full circle.

The Tundra Buggy Lodge -- Camp Headquarters

This was brought home to us as multiple polar bears circled our lodge while we learned about the daily and long term operations of Polar Bears International and what it means to be stewards of our planet.   One definition of Stewardship is the careful management of something entrusted to one’s care.  This is a very relevant definition and strikes to the major point of what is occurring on our planet due to climate change.   We are stewards of this planet and the life and systems that operate on it.   If we are not going to help then who is?  Another major part of our day was conducting our webcast to our own institutions and families.  This was a great opportunity to directly communicate with colleagues back home about our time at camp, what we learned, and describe our experiences. This was followed by a Skype with Robert Buchanan (President of PBI).   He reminded us of why we came here and of our obligation to future generations.

A farwell sunset from the tundra

Leaving camp we are now armed with the tools and knowledge we need to step out and create change. The first challenge we gave ourselves as leaders began at camp and was reducing our own carbon footprint for the week at the lodge.  We took on the no shower eco-challenge. This allowed for the conservation of many resources while adding to the aroma and ambiance of the experience! The most encouraging and supportive part of this final day was getting the opportunity to meet with our Polar Bears International facilitators one on one.  We used this time to finalize our forward action plans for change.   Putting our thoughts on paper, then discussing them as a group helped them to really resonate with us.  We are leaving the tundra this week feeling motivated and confident.  We can make a change.  We are committed to make a change.  We will make a change!

Change is needed!

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 3

by | October 5th, 2011

Climate Change:  The Extreme Example of Human Wildlife Conflict

Victor Alm – Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

On several occasions at Climate Change Leadership camp we have discussed the human wildlife conflict in regards to polar bears.  The first time was in the town of Churchill, Manitoba with Natural Resource officer Bob Windser who works for Manitoba Conservation.

Bob Windser talking about human wildlife conflict

Bob is in charge of the Bear Alert Program in and around Churchill where they deal with the potential interactions between the residents and the migrating polar bears.  The main reasons for interaction are because polar bears are passing by on their migration north to meet the sea ice (which they depend on for their main food source of seals) and hunger (if they are in poor physical condition).  The response to polar bears can take many forms from deterrence to dispatch.  Deterrence is the preferred method and takes several non-lethal forms.  The first and preferred methods are used to drive bears from out and around town using noise emitting firearms called screamers, bangers, and crackers.  The second is to use paintball guns and white paint on those that are not fazed by noise.  The third is to chemically immobilize bears or trap bears and bring them to a specially designed polar bear holding facility where they can spend several days to a month, depending on the circumstances of capture.  For example, a sow with cubs would only spend a few days.  The polar bears are relocated thirty to forty miles outside of town and if possible back onto the sea ice.  The other Non-preferred method is to put the bears down. It is reserved for situations where the safety of the residents, tourists, or officers is at risk.

Bear Alert Holding Building

Over the last few years, officials have seen an increase in the number of polar bears that have gone  through their program.  More bears are also migrating through  and around town, approximately one month earlier than in years past.  This is unusual because once polar bears leave the sea ice in late spring/early summer, they tend to fast for several months and wait for the return of the sea ice, generally not interested in eating/hunting unless they come across something opportunistically. For a normal, happy, and healthy bear, fasting is not a problem.  But Natural Resource Officers are not always seeing healthy bears; instead, they are seeing them in declining condition.  Due to the increasing sea ice loss  from overall rising global temperature (caused by accumulations of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) bears are having to spend more time on land fasting and less time on the ice fattening up on seals.

Some say our changing climate could be seen as the ultimate trigger for a human and wildlife conflict; not only with polar bears, but potentially with numerous other species that will be trying to adapt and move as their habitats and natural behavior is altered.

Polar Bear waiting for the sea ice to return

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 2

by | October 5th, 2011

Absolute Necessity — A Group Blog

Victor Alm — Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

Patty Young -Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Philip Fensterer — Oregon Zoo

Jennifer Funk — Pittsburgh Zoo

We had an opportunity to Skype with  Dr. Stephen Amstrup, senior scientist for Polar Bears International, this morning.   WOW!!! What a personable, professional, and knowledgeable man.   Thank you again Dr. Amstrup for your time today and thank you for reminding us how important the ice is to the polar bear.

Polar Bear off the Ice

Opening a discussion about climate change with the fact that sea ice is an absolute necessity to polar bears is a great tool.   The wild polar bear must eat seals and the seal cannot be caught except by ambush from an ice platform.   Despite the evidence that sea ice is disappearing for the polar bear the argument of  uncertainty versus reliability continues to be a hot data topic in the climate change debate.  Although our climate clearly has been warming, we are still seeing natural variation in our weather causing times of both warm and cold weather patterns.   This unfortunately has instilled a certain amount of doubt  about the reality of climate change.  However,  the laws of physics require that as the amounts of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere rise, heat trapping gas will cause the earth to warm.  Without the mitigation of greenhouse gases polar bears will be part of our history and not our future.   Alternatively, by reducing  greenhouse gases we can make a difference with the sea ice levels needed for polar bears as well as make a difference to the many other species tied to climate change.

Arctic Fox -- One of many that could be affected by Climate Change

This is a powerful message that needs a powerful and effective approach when being delivered.   One method we discussed today was using personal connection to our own lives and with those whom we speak with to convey the importance of this message.  We experienced this method first hand today when we had a no cameras allowed polar bear moment.  After seeing the bear on the tundra outside of the buggy, we were asked to safely stick our heads out the windows, close our eyes, feel the wind on our face, smell the air, and know that this is what the bear is also experiencing.  Then, we were asked to think about that bear being gone forever, not just this bear today but all polar bears forever.   This was a very moving and emotional for all of us.  As leaders, it is an absolute necessity for us to leave this camp and take steps to create change in our communities

Stay tuned for more Blogs from Climate Change Leadership Camp.

 

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 1

by | October 4th, 2011

What’s It Means To Be a Leader

Victor Alm – Zoological Manager

PBI campers by the Hudson Bay

After the flight from the Bay Area to Winnipeg, I finally got a chance to sit down and meet my sixteen fellow campers/ambassadors along with the facilitators of the zookeeper climate change leadership camp hosted by Polar Bears International.  After a short while, I came to realize that the folks at PBI want nothing less than for us to change the world, change the way we live our lives, all to help make a difference in the fight to mitigate climate change and save the planet and biodiversity that we love.

Inspired artic ambassabdor Victor Alm

The camp itself is in investment in us to do this and they want to support us along with the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) to come up with and institute action plans in our communities to do just that.   These statements were very overwhelming and spawned a discussion on what it means to be a leader.   One statement on what a leader could look like resonated with me:  A leader is not always the person who is sitting in the front of the room or the loudest voice, but can just be someone who is willing to take the initiative and make those first steps no matter how loud their voice is.  I spent a lot of time that evening tossing and turning thinking about those words and connecting it to two other messages about leadership that the Oakland Zoo has invested  in me over the years and how they can work synonymously with the statement above.  These statements are to lead by example and to focus on the issue or behavior at hand, not the personality or attitude.   When combined they create a trio of principles that may not be the specific pathway a leader must walk, but can aid in finding those first steps down the pathway towards making a difference, towards changing who we are,  and how we can start change through our leadership in our communities.  Having leadership that can facilitate and push change is needed by PBI, by AAZK, by the polar bears, by flamingos, and by all those in the natural world who can potentially be affected by climate change during their daily lives.   When you look at it like that, why not expect yourself to change the world, and why not be enthusiastic doing it?

Polar Bear from Afar

Please check out our PBI camp blog at

http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/programs/pbi-leadership-camps/groups/keeper-leadership-camp-1

Coming soon: A post about my trip to the Churchill Polar Bear Alert Program.

What Is PBI And Why Should We Know About It?

by | September 23rd, 2011

Victor Alm — Zoological Manager

Whether you agree that it is occurring or not, you have most likely have heard about global warming or the changes in our planet’s climate. But, what many of us associated with the Oakland Zoo may not have heard of, especially since we do not have polar bears in our collection, is an organization called PBI. PBI stands for Polar Bears International, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the polar bear and polar bear habitat through research, stewardship, and education around the world.

Polar bear on ice sheet

Now why would I bring up the terms of global warming/climate change and polar bears together? Well since some of the most convincing and evident examples of a warming climate are seen in the arctic and the arctic sea ice, one of the main habitat components for the polar bear. The two are linked and are running headlong towards each other very quickly and with some potentially devastating results.  Polar bears rely heavily on the arctic sea ice for movement, breeding, hunting, and to a smaller degree denning for the birth of their cubs.   When you combine this with a rapid decline of this sea ice (since the 1980s), due to a warming climate, you start to see the problem and why the polar bear is now listed as a threatened species under the endangered species act.

So, why am I telling you all about this and why should those of us associated with the Oakland Zoo care about climate change, polar bears, and PBI? Polar bears, despite being on the front lines of the climate change debate and often the poster child of the environmental climate change movement are not the only species that could be affected by climate change. A changing climate has implications for numerous species in many habitat types all over the world.

The Lesser Flamingo

For example, the Lesser Flamingo, a species we exhibit here at the Oakland Zoo, are being or will be affected by climate change through loss of or alterations in the size and quality of their wetland habitats.  Flamingos, not unlike the polar bear, are dependent on their preferred environment for food, breeding, and raising their young. Similar stories can be heard about salmon, penguins, sea turtles, and numerous migratory birds. So despite being focused on climate change matters related to polar bears, PBI and the strategies and tips they endorse to help mitigate climate change, make sense and can have lasting effects for a lot of other animals.

To help reach their goal of having a measurable impact in the preservation of the polar bears artic habitat by 2015, Polar Bear International is sponsoring PBI leadership camps.   These camps are reaching out to those individuals who want to advocate personally or through their employer for conservation and sustainable lifestyles that help combat the effects of climate change.  Campers will gain knowledge about climate change and its impacts first hand from scientists, educators, and community members that will transform them into climate change/Arctic ambassadors that are inspired and empowered to make a difference for polar bears and all species that face our changing world.

Victor Alm -- Zoological Manager/Arctic Ambassador

I am lucky enough to be one of those campers and will be attending climate change leadership camp in early October.  I hope to return with the knowledge and drive to get the Oakland Zoo involved in the campaign to educate and make measurable impacts for the preservation of  polar bears and the numerous other species that are grappling with the issue of climate change.   I feel that our world continues to struggle and grapple with the numerous issues that affect wildlife around the globe such as invasive species, climate change, pollution, habitat change/destruction, and exploitation. However, I strongly feel that you do not need to look far and wide to grapple these global problems. Through local efforts and local involvement in these issues we can address and tackle them one small step at a time. I hope that through my own efforts in local wildlife rehabilitation, head starting, and conservation along with recycling and reusing I can lead by example and take one small personal step. I hope through my continuing education on climate change and the messages and action plans that come from my time at PBI camp that I can take another step and bring many others with me.

To learn more about Polar Bears International, Climate Change, Climate Change Leadership camp, and some things you can do to help in this issue please visit www.polarbearsinternational.org.   Also please follow me and my experiences at camp by checking the Oakland Zoo Blog (www.oaklandzoo.org/blog) as well as the camp blog found at the Polar Bears International website listed above.

Michelle Jeffries: Zoological Manager Extraordinaire

by | September 23rd, 2011

For the most part, when you think of the term “manager” the words funny, energetic, and caring are not necessarily the first which come to mind. More often it may be along the lines of hard-working, diligent, and organized. Luckily for the Oakland Zoo, our newest Zoological Manager, Michelle Jeffries, encompasses all of these attributes. As lead keeper Amy Phelps points out, “Michelle is an inspirational team leader and one of the most positive people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  She brings an upbeat attitude to every situation and never misses an opportunity to positively reinforce her staff!”

Michelle leading one of the zoo's camels into the night quarters.

With a degree in Zoology and Marine Science, Michelle has spent around thirty years accumulating an extensive and impressive background in marine mammal research and behavioral studies.  Michelle has worked across the U.S. for such renowned institutions as the Long Marine Lab at U.C. Santa Cruz where under Ron Schusterman she says, “the best thing I learned was that you train to a certain point and then you stop and see what the animal is capable of.”

From UCSC Michelle moved to the Brookfield Zoo’s Seven Seas in Chicago, then the Mote Marine Lab in Florida and finally back to California where she spent eleven years at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There, Michelle held positions as Senior Sea Otter Aquarist and then Associate Curator of Mammals. (For a fun and educational video of Michelle showing a “Day in the Life of a Scientist” at the otter exhibit visit: http://Pbskids.org/dragonflytv/scientists/scientist10.html). At Monterey Bay, Michelle was able to take part in an innovative program in which orphaned otter pups were brought to the aquarium to be raised by exhibit females. These pups were later re-released back into the wild where they were able to breed successfully.  This experience holds a special place in Michelle’s heart. “When I look back at my career, I’m proud of a lot of things I was able to do, but the thing I’m most proud being a part of was the reintroduction program at the aquarium.”

Her human coworkers aren't the only ones who appreciate her!

 

So just how does someone with such extensive marine mammal experience end up in the very terrestrial world of the Oakland Zoo? Ready for a change, Michelle applied, in her own words “at the last minute of the last day” for the Zoological Manager position – and it was lucky for us she did! Michelle was hired in January of 2011 and definitely had her work cut out for her. Michelle has had to take over a section of the zoo which features some of our most senior keepers, a broad range of species, and over 180 individual animals! In addition, Michelle has the office aspect of the job to contend with, overseeing a variety of programs and initiatives. Her hard work is greatly appreciated by her colleagues. As fellow Zoological Manager Victor Alm points out, “I like Michelle because she is easy to work with and will always offer assistance on projects or staffing if needed.”

It’s not only her helpful attitude that her colleagues appreciate. Curator Colleen Kinzley credits Michelle as being  “wonderful to work with because she is consistently positive and optimistic, no matter what the obstacle her response always starts out with something like ‘That’s ok we’ll just . . .’” This sentiment is backed up by the keepers she oversees. Lead keeper and Oakland Zoo titan Erica Calcagno notes, “Michelle is quick to compliment someone for a job well done, is attentive to her staff’s needs, and has a great sense of humor.”

As much as we all appreciate Michelle, she attributes much of the success and enjoyment of her new position to the keepers she oversees.  With seven keepers totaling a combined 60 plus years of experience between them, Michelle recognizes “I’ve got great keepers who really know their animals.

In Michelle can be found the respect and professionalism required to make a wonderful leader, and the caring and compassion to make an exceptional boss and an amazing animal caregiver. Michelle’s enthusiasm and overall wonderful personality have made her a fantastic attribute to the Oakland Zoo. With all of the amazing people who work in the Animal Management Department, Michelle has definitely been a welcome addition here.

It's not all office work!

 

So if you see our wonderful Manager Extraordinaire Michelle Jeffries around the zoo, please tell her to keep up the good work!