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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:


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 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.


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:

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!


Crazy About Bats!

by | September 27th, 2015



Hello, fellow conservation heroes, Zena the Zookeeper here!

Hot diggity dog!  It’s Halloween again, that most fabulous, silly, little-bit-spooky, dress-up-in-funny costumes, eat-waaay-too-much-candy time of year!  I like Halloween so much that I’m having a real battle trying to figure out what great thing to talk about this month.  I mean, I’ve been batting around all kinds of ideas, but I still don’t know which to choose. Hey wait a minute…maybe I’ll talk about bats!

Bats are some of the coolest, most amazing animals on earth.  There are 1,100 different kinds, or species, of bats in the world, and they range in size from the huge Malayan Flying Fox bat with a wing span of up to 6 feet (we have those here at the Zoo), to the bumble bee bat of Thailand that is actually smaller than a thumbnail!  Not only are bats nocturnal, which is really cool in itself, but some bats even help to control insect populations by eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.  Bats are so awesome!

Here are some more fascinating facts about these beautiful, furry creatures of the night:

  1. Bats that eat fruit (like our Malayan and Island Flying Fox bats) don’t actually eat the whole fruit. They really just suck the juice out. While they are sucking the juice, they store the pulp of the fruit on the roof of their mouths.  Later, they spit out the disc of pulp, which just happens to contain fruit seeds and helps to plant more fruit trees and shrubs! Malayan_Flying_Fox_Bat If you look closely at our bats, you can sometimes see these discs of pulp lying at the bottom of their enclosure.
  2. The wings of a bat are actually its hands, and that little “claw-like” hook on its wing is really a thumb!
  3. Not all bats are blind. For example, our Malayan and Island Flying Fox bats can even see color.  That’s important because it helps them know when the fruit they eat is ripe – kinda like your mom or dad squeezes an avocado or plum to see if it is ripe.
  4. If you’ve ever wondered what the skin on a bat’s wing feels like, well, wonder no more. The wing skin feels a lot like the soft skin on our eyelids.  Imagine that!
  5. There really are vampire bats – three different species, in fact – but they mostly drink the blood of other animals, and they never sleep in a coffin or wear long black capes!

If you come out to the Zoo this month, be sure to stop by and visit our most magnificent friends, the Flying Fox bats.  You could also take yourself on a little discovery tour and see how many different kinds of nocturnal animals live here – you’ll be amazed how many there are. And don’t forget to come to Boo at the Zoo on October 24th and 25th.  Wear a costume, trick or treat for yummy goodies, and join in the Halloween Dance Party in the meadow.  This year we are even having a special family camping night to celebrate Halloween called Family Sundown Spookfari.  To find out how to register for this great overnight program or to get details about all the fun happening at Boo at the Zoo visit and check out our calendar.

Hope to see you soon!

Zena the Zookeeper

Fragile Felines!

by | July 9th, 2015

world lion day3


Lions are the top predators within their territories; however, even they are not exempt from the pressures of the changes taking place in the world. As human encroachment into nature’s last wild places continues, the everyday struggles for lions increase. While some game parks in Africa appear to have thriving lion populations, spotting a lion in Africa outside one of these areas is increasingly rare. Without extensive human management of lion populations, these iconic cats will disappear.

Uganda Carnivore Program, located in Queen Elizabeth National Park, is one organization that is fighting to preserve African lions. Dr. Ludwig Siefert and his research assistant James use radiotracking collars to keep tabs on the small population of lions remaining in the in park. They also work with local villages to mitigate the human-lion conflicts that arise from cohabitation of lions, humans, and the cattle they both use as food.


world lion day2


Here in California, “America’s lion,” the mountain lion, continues to be a misunderstood and feared predator. However, recent legislation is beginning to positively affect mountain lions. Now, with the help of Oakland Zoo, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife may be able to relocate some mountain lions from urban areas to remote wilderness locations. Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital is approved as a temporary housing location for such mountain lions, and the veterinary staff works closely with officers when “nuisance” mountain lions are spotted.


world lion day4


On Saturday August 22, Oakland Zoo will celebrate World Lion Day with our own special Lion Appreciation Day. From lion keeper talks to lion paw prints, there will be a myriad of activities to help you appreciate and learn more about all lions! For a preview of World Lion Day, visit






Big Love for Elephants with Big Life!

by | April 24th, 2015

It started with a book:  1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I was planning a trip to Kenya — my last one had been 25 years earlier — and read this:

“An Unspoiled Corner of Kenya:  Ol Donyo Wuas, Chyulu Hills. The owner and occasional resident personality, Richard Bonham chose the site for its view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  Bonham himself occasionally pops up…”

Big Life, one of our Quarters for Conservation partners for 2014-15, is headquartered in the Chyulu Hills at Ol Donyo; Richard Bonham is one of the co-founders, along with photographer Nick Brandt.  Big Life protects 2 million acres of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of East Africa, encompassing portions of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Amboseli Tsavo ecosystem map
They implement the philosophy I heard about when I got there:  Wildlife Helping People.  Big Life is the largest employer of community members (predominantly Maasai) in the region, and the organization ensures that tourist revenue derived from wildlife in the ecosystem benefits the locals.

Richard Bonham grew up in Kenya, the son of a Kenya Wildlife Services ranger.  He recently received the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, and he thoroughly understands and appreciates Maasai economics and culture.


big life awardFor the Maasai, cattle are their wealth.  They live on semi-arid land that their cattle share with savannah grazers and browsers — elephants, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, antelopes, zebras — along with predators — lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas.  Young boys grow up herding and protecting cattle among all the resident wildlife, and they have a deep knowledge and appreciation of nature, with one exception:  lions are a traditional enemy, and when a lion kills a Maasai cow, teenage warriors retaliate — and prove their manhood — by killing a lion.

Over the last 25 years, Maasai elders — who serve as mentors for adolescents — have realized that their lion-killing tradition can’t continue.  Lions are among the iconic tourist draws, and if every Maasai warrior proved his manhood by killing a lion, tourist revenue would die with the lions.  In 2008, the elders asked Richard Bonham to brainstorm a solution with them, and together they came up with two schemes:  a predator compensation fund, from which the community partially compensates a family that loses cattle in spite of their best efforts to protect them; and the Maasai Olympics, where young men compete in traditional Maasai skills for prizes, displacing the need to kill a lion as a rite of passage.  The elders spent six months on education about the importance of the young generation in implementing a cultural change that would preserve the best of their traditions — but update their values to the realities of the 21st century.

Big Life and their partners have organized Maasai Olympics competitions in 2012 and 2014.  David Rudisha, the Maasai gold medalist in the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics, is a fervent supporter, and guest of honor.
During the last quarter of 2014, not one elephant, among the 2,000 that pass through, was poached in Big Life’s area of operation.  Most of the danger for elephants now lies in conflict with farmers:  elephants raid crops, or drain the water supply, potentially destroying a year’s livelihood.  Farmers retaliate by spearing the elephants.

And Big Life comes to the rescue:  a Kenya Wildlife Service vet flies to Ol Donyo when the staff spot a wounded elephant, treats the wound and sends the elephant back to the wild, hopefully wiser about where and what he chooses to eat and drink.


elephant down
The community around Ol Donyo now Gets It about conservation.  Big Life’s latest story:

They arrived with a just cause, eight construction workers to build a classroom. They must have wondered at all the animals, living in peace and not terrified of humans. Clearly they didn’t take the time to find out why.

And this led to a very bad decision. If no one else was eating all these animals, well then they would. They chased down a lesser kudu, an uncommon and shy antelope, and snuck the carcass into the school through a hole in a fence.

But they misjudged the people around them. The message went from a set of community eyes, via the Big Life control room, and straight to the rangers. The cooking fire wasn’t even warm by the time the ranger team arrived, and the men found themselves on their way to the police station. A bad end to their day.

Despite the on-going conflicts with elephants and predators, this is a community that has decided to conserve wildlife, and the sooner visitors get the message, the better for them.

Note: Big Life will be presenting at our annual Celebrating Elephants event on May 16th. Join us!

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