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World Elephant Day: Celebrate, Mourn, and March On!

by | August 7th, 2014

WED LOGOAugust 12th. A day to celebrate how truly magnificent these majestic beings are: variations of grey, brown, and red, wrinkly skin thick and thin but so sensitive they can feel a butterfly land on them, strong in mind and body, emotional and full of facial expressions, unique individuals, funny, explorative, intelligent to say the least, protective of family, stubborn . . . the list goes on. A day to thank them for taking care of this earth and playing a key role in their ecosystem for the survival of other species. A day to advocate on behalf of them and protect them from a gruesome slaughter due to human greed. A day to mourn for those that have succumb to the poachers poison arrow or AK-47, and to not forget the rangers that have given their lives to watch over them. A day to recognize them for what and who they are supposed to be, not what the entertainment industry or circuses force them to be. A day to be grateful for them, respect them, and admire them from afar.

M'Dundamella at Oakland Zoo. We cannot allow more elephants like Mountain Bull and Satao be victims of the poaching crisis.

M’Dundamella at Oakland Zoo. We cannot allow more elephants like Mountain Bull and Satao to be victims of the poaching crisis.

There has been so much going on with elephants there is barely time to keep up with it all. Here are some of the ups and downs on the conservation end of what is currently going on.

  • DEFEAT. May 1st, 2014: Hawaii Ivory Bill failed to meet its final legislative approval deadline, despite unanimously passing 4 House and Senate committees, both chambers and with strong support of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and Governor Abercrombie. There are plans to reintroduce the bill in the coming year.
  • SAD NEWS. May 16th, 2014: Mountain Bull, a “famous” bull known for his rambunctious behavior was found dead with his tusks cut off in Mt. Kenya National Park.
  • GOOD NEWS. May 24th, 2014: Oakland Zoo had its most successful Celebrating Elephants yet, and raised over 34,000 dollars for Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Check out www.elephanttrust.org for more info on the 40 year African Elephant research study in Kenya, one we’ve been supporting for 18 years.
  • SAD NEWS. May 30th, 2014: Satao, one of Kenya’s largest bull elephants and with tusks so long they reached the ground, was announced killed by poachers from poison arrows. Satao will be missed, read a beautiful article written by Mark Deeble right before his death, www.markdeeble.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/satao-a-legend-2/
  • GOOD NEWS: Oakland Zoo will now be supporting Big Life Foundation through our Quarters for Conservation program. Every time you come to visit the zoo you should recieve a token to vote on one of the three conservation organizations of the year. Twenty-five cents of your admission fee goes towards these three organizations.  Big Life Foundation was founded by photographer Nick Brandt and conservationist Richard Bonham in September 2010.  Big Life has now expanded to employ 315 rangers, with 31 outposts and 15 vehicles protecting 2 million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of E. Africa. Big Life was the first organization in East Africa with co-ordinated cross-border anti-poaching operations.
  • 96 Elephants campaign created by Wildlife Conservation Society has been HOT with ACTION:
    Some of the 1600 templates our visitors and supporters have made to send to Governor Brown.

    Some of the 1600 templates our visitors and supporters have made to send to Governor Brown.

    • 159 Partners of the campaign to date (http://96elephants.org/coalition).
    • VICTORY! June 4th2014: Thanks to WCS, 96 Elephants partners, and advocates, Antiques Roadshow on PBS will no longer feature carved ivory tusks on air, and has removed past appraisals from their series archive.
    • VICTORY! June 18th 2014: The Ivory Bill in New York state was passed prohibiting transactions of ivory, mammoth, and rhino horn except for a few exceptions for certain musical instruments, educational and scientific purposes, 100 year old antiques that are less than 20% ivory with documentation of proof of provenance. The bill has also increased fines and jail time for violators.
    • ACTION: Kid’s can save elephants campaign. Oakland Zoo has been collecting kids’ drawings of elephants and letters for Governor Jerry Brown to be mailed to his office on August 12th, World Elephant Day, asking for the ivory trade to be banned and strengthened in the state of California. States around the country will be doing the same. Our initial goal was to turn in 960 drawings, but we have surpassed 1600! Check out Oakland Zoo’s super cool video featuring some of these pictures:
    • ACTION: Petition to ban the ivory trade. Oakland Zoo has been tabling weekly to increase public awareness and asking our visitors to sign the petition. We have collected over 1400 signatures! If you haven’t been to visit please go online to www.96elephants.org and sign the petition now.
    • ACTION: Go grey for World Elephant Day. Come visit Oakland Zoo on Tuesday, August 12th, World Elephant Day, and wear grey for our giant friends. We will be tabling, and educating, as well as giving away grey awareness ribbons.
  • VICTORY! June 16th, 2014: New Jersey State Assembly passes legislation to ban ivory trade in the state.
  • VICTORY! July 24, 2014: New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Select Committee announced their support of a petition, rallied by an Auckland teacher Virginia Woolf, calling the Government to push for the resumption of a full ban on the sale of ivory.

10462529_852455838112885_6531909974391969404_nMarch for Elephants working fiercely: MFE is a San Francisco based grassroots organization dedicated to direct and peaceful action to promote global awareness about the elephant crisis, advocate for cessation of poaching, to shut down China’s ivory carving factories, and to lobby state, federal, and international representatives to revise legislation which currently permits the trade and importation of ivory.

  • Currently MFE is tabling all over the Bay Area at fairs, farmers markets, parades, and Oakland Zoo to raise awareness and promote the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Go online to www.marchforelephants.org for more info, join as a member, and sign the petition to help stop the illegal ivory trade in California.

    On October 4th, over 113 cities worldwide will be marching to fight extinction!

    On October 4th, over 113 cities worldwide will be marching to fight extinction!

  • ACTION: Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, also known as GMFER, will take place on Saturday October 4th, in over 113 cities world-wide. Oakland Zoo will be marching in San Francisco, along with many other dedicated organizations and activists. For more information on the GMFER and to purchase your gear visit, www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org.

This about sums up what Oakland Zoo has been working on and supporting to fight for the survival of elephants in Africa. Remember that 96 elephants a day are being killed for their ivory, that’s about one every fifteen minutes. Please join us to help stop elephants from disappearing. Come visit on Tuesday, August 12th for World Elephant Day (www.worldelephantday.org) and get your awareness ribbon at the elephant habitat. Oh, and we’ll see you in San Francisco at the march. Onward, elephant warriors!

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It’s Definitely Summer at Oakland Zoo!

by | July 30th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperGreetings, fellow conservation heroes – Zena the Zookeeper here!

Glorioski it’s been hot lately! We zookeepers spend a lot of time outside, so we really try to remember to always wear a hat, stay in the shade as much as possible, drink lots and lots of water, and move a little bit slower than usual to keep our bodies from overheating. I’ll bet you do the same things on hot days (and if not, you should). Animals in the wild do those same things, too. They rest in the shade, find cool water for taking a little dip and drinking, and they keep their activity level low during the day.

Many of the animals at Oakland Zoo do other things to stay cool, as well, and some of them are a little weird – well, weird to us humans, anyway. For instance, griffon vultures and some other birds will poop and pee on their legs to keep cool – not exactly something most humans do! Other animals, like our Aldabra tortoises, estivate, which means that they go into a sort of sleep during hot weather, like a super-deep nap that lasts for months. Some mammals, like pygmy goats , lose a lot of fur, or shed when the weather gets really warm, so their coats aren’t so hot and heavy. If you see our elephants waving their ears during hot days, they are radiating heat from their ears: this cools down the blood as it moves through their ears first and then circulates through the rest of their bodies (this is how refrigerators work too). Our tigers pant – they breathe quickly through their mouths so the air going in and out will cool the moisture in their mouths. Our hyenas enjoy a cool dip in their water tub!Coolin' off!

Oakland Zoo’s animal keepers do lots of things to help our animals stay cool: we make sure they have shady places to rest in their enclosures, and we keep the doors to their night-houses open so they can go in and cool down any time they want – we even put fans in some of the night-houses.

We also give many of them popsicles to lick or eat. But, these aren’t your ordinary popsicles, though: some of our popsicles are made of fresh frozen juices and fruits, like the ones we make in big trash cans for our elephants; for our tigers, we create special meat and blood popsicles, and our otters get fish popsicles. I’m not so sure I’d like one of those as a snack, but our animals sure love them!We also make sure our otters have nice ice floes in their swimming water, and we use misters and hoses and swimming pits to help some of our animals stay cool. We even make sure our pigs and warthogs have big ol’ mud pits to roll around in and cool off. There is even a group of people (called the Taxon Advisory Group) who work with Zoos to make sure they only have animals that can live comfortably in the climate where the zoo is located.

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As you see, we work very hard to make sure our animals stay cool in the heat and can enjoy the wonderful months or summer. Next time you are here on a hot day, be sure to look around see how many different ways you can find that we are making sure we have the “coolest” animals in town!

 

See you at the Zoo – and stay cool until then!

 

 

 

Earth Day Outreach and Elephant Advocacy

by | April 25th, 2014

Last Saturday, April 19th, Oakland Zoo celebrated Earth Day with over fifty conservation organization stations and over 5,000 zoo guests to educate! Up at the elephant enclosure we were engaging our visitors to take action for elephants! They had three options:

  1. Cheryl Matthews, elephant barn volunteer, encouraging kids to draw elephant pictures for the 96 Elephants campaign.

    Cheryl Matthews, elephant barn volunteer, encouraging kids to draw elephant pictures for the 96 Elephants campaign.

    1. Sign a petition. In support of our new partner 96 Elephants (www.96elephants.org) we received over 100 signatures for a petition to say no to the ivory trade and to support all government efforts in the United States to declare a ban on the trade.

  2. 2. Color an elephant picture. As part of 96 Elephants Kids Save Elephants campaign, children were encouraged to color a picture of an elephant, and turn it in to zoo staff. Our goal is to gather up 960 drawings to turn into our state governor. Since 96 Elephants has over 100 partners, their overall goal is to have 96,000 drawings total to turn into state governors. This was a huge hit with the kids, and we acquired over 120 drawings, well on our way to 960!

3. Buy a ticket for the Celebrating Elephants drawing. Our Celebrating Elephants events, on May 17th and 24th are coming up soon (www.oaklandzoo.org/Events.php). Guests had the opportunity to buy a ticket to win the following prizes: An up-close visit with our elephants to see how we care for them through

Kids advocating for elephants at Oakland Zoo Earth Day!
Kids advocating for elephants at Oakland Zoo Earth Day!

 

Protected Contact, Giants tickets, Walk in the Wild tickets, Oakland Zoo Zoomobile visit, and Zoo Lights family tickets. All proceeds of this event and from the drawing go to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya to support the 40 year research project which directly protects the elephants that live in the park.

Talking to kids and adults about what’s going on with the ivory trade got me really excited for our 18th annual Celebrating Elephants Day, a day of advocacy for captive and wild elephants here at Oakland Zoo. Engaging the public whether it’s to sign a petition, or donate their time or money, is so important because it means they are a part of the change that is to come and it means that they care. Every dollar, every minute, and every thought spent on elephants counts in the fight to save them, whether from the circus or the ivory trade.

Celebrating Elephants Evening Saturday, May 17th: Join us for a lovely evening of light appetizers and beverages and peruse an array of silent auction items donated from local bay area restaurants, breweries, shops, and artists. Auction items feature gift certificates, local winery gift baskets, sports events tickets, hand-crafted art, and behind the scenes visits to California Academy of Sciences, CuriOdessey, Safari West, and Oakland Zoo! The highlight of the evening will be speaker Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist at Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Dr. Fishlock joined the research team in 2011 to study the social resilience of female elephants following a devastating drought in 2009. She will share some of her findings in her ongoing research looking at the fascinating social dynamics in the lives of female elephants, and how these individual relationships shape the success of families. Come hear stories of success and struggle of the magnificent elephants of the Amboseli Plains. Watch a sneak peak of Vicki here on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWsuXbUJNpI). This year’s Celebrating Elephants will be in honor of 96 Elephants. We will feature their petition to sign, information about the campaign, and a small presentation before the lecture about our involvement.

Celebrating Elephants Day, Saturday May 24th: Join us for a day of adventure and fun, while being educated about the perils of the ivory trade and cruelty of elephants in circuses. Highlights of the day include: elephant barn tours to see Osh elephant get his daily pedicure while keepers explain the importance of protected contact and training, Circus-Finelli, an animal-free circus, an elephant treat box making station, face painting, and a chance to learn how to observe and identify elephants in the wild!

Just like you helped us make Earth Day special come and join us for Celebrating Elephants and be an elephant advocate. Sign petitions, draw an elephant, and buy a drawing ticket all in the fight to save the earth’s most majestic creature. Remember everything you do, no matter how small helps, even if it’s encouraging a friend to attend!

Make Mine Chocolate!

by | April 15th, 2014

Rescued Rabbit, Photo credit: Steve Gordon

Spring has sprung and it is my favorite time of the year! I love the trees, the grass, and flowers. I don’t even mind the pollen, well, not much anyway. Of course, one of my favorite things about this time of year is the Easter candy. I have always been partial to the Cadbury bunny! After all, who can resist a cute little fluffy bunny that lays chocolate eggs?

Apparently, I am not the only one. Each year thousands children awaken on Easter morning delighted to find furry or fuzzy little creatures in their Easter baskets. However children, as we all know, have very short attention spans and by May animal shelters across the country are overrun with abandoned Easter Bunnies, fuzzy little baby chicks, and tiny ducklings. Even worse, many animals are simply turned loose to fend for themselves. In fact, our own rabbits right here at the Oakland Zoo, were domestic pets that had been turned loose at a local college and started breeding, quickly overpopulating the small area and pushing out local wildlife. Five volunteers from the Oakland Animal Services spent all summer catching the rabbits to bring them to get medical care.

These rabbits were lucky, they wound up here at the zoo where they get all the food, water, fresh grass and chew toys they want. But, I will never forget the scene at the animal shelter the first day that I went to meet our potential rabbits. The room at the shelter was stacked to the ceiling with rabbit cages, all of them full. There was also a small makeshift play area set up in the middle of the room that was being used to house more rabbits, and then I discovered that even more rabbits were being housed in foster homes! I went to the animal shelter intending to adopt 5 rabbits, I left with 10. I wish I had been able to provide homes for more of them, but sadly, we do have limited space. I truly admire the people at the shelter who work so hard to care for these abandoned and neglected animals.

Another great organization that cares for abandoned bunnies is the House Rabbit Society (HRS). Last year, HRS began their “Make Mine Chocolate” campaign which teaches people about responsible pet ownership and making good choices. They highlight the special needs of these fragile little creatures and educate people about the hazards of “casual” pet acquisition. The truth is that rabbits are delicate little beings that require time, space and money to properly care for them. Rabbits often have a lifespan of 10 years, and it is irresponsible to acquire a pet unless you plan to make a commitment for the entire life time of the animal. They also need attention, regular exercise and a balanced diet, just like any other pet. Rabbits can be great companions, but it is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
I still love the Cadbury bunny! This year, I will be thrilled to “Make Mine Chocolate!”

Bunny rescued by the Oakland Zoo after being abandoned by his owners.

The REAL Lemurs of Oakland Zoo!

by | April 3rd, 2014
Jennifer

Ring Tailed Lemur at Oakland Zoo

“Look!  King Julian!”

“I like to move it, move it! I like to move it, move it!”

These are just a few phrases I often hear when I’m working in the lemur exhibit here at Oakland Zoo.  While movies such as “Madagascar” and “The Lion King” may foster an interest of wild animals in their young audience, they don’t provide any actual knowledge of the animals starring in them.

And that’s where I get to perform one of the cool parts of my job as a keeper- to interact with our guests and provide actual facts about these amazing beings!

First I get to tell them there would not be a King Julian in lemur society!  There would be a Queen Julianne instead.  Just like several other awesome species such as elephants, meerkats and hyenas, lemurs are matriarchal, which means the ladies are in charge! And in our troop of ring-tailed lemurs, Amy is the boss!

While observing our lemurs look for the lemur that is always paying attention to everyone else, whose tail is always pointing straight up or forward and who is always first at meal time- that’s Amy. She will be the one who decides where to forage, when to sit in the sun and when to groom.  Her twin daughters Kristina and Jennifer along with their buddy Jaeger defer to her decisions about their daily life.  If not, she may deliver a stern look or possibly chase the misbehaving individual if necessary.  Notice the body posture of the other lemurs.  Because Amy is always on duty, they can be a little more relaxed, with their tails curled over their backs in a question mark as they forage, groom or sun themselves.

Next, I tell our guests lemurs DO like to move it!  But our lemurs don’t move it just for the fun of it- they move to live!  Wild animals have jobs to do.  Their job is to protect their territory, find food and a safe place to live and raise their young.  In the wild this is a full time job.  In captivity, many of these normal behaviors are fulfilled by their keepers- we provide them with a safe place to live, the right diet and social group.  The keeper’s job is to find ways in which the animals in our care can perform these natural behaviors.  We call it “enrichment”.  Enrichment encompasses a wide variety of options and can include;

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Lead Keeper Elizabeth Abram training a Sclater’s or Blue-Eyed Lemur.

Manual manipulation- We may put their diet in a “puzzle feeder” or boxes so they have to use physical and mental skills to get their food.

Changes in their environment – We can move or change the “furniture” in their exhibit to keep their environment complex and stimulating.

Sensory stimulation – straw or bedding from another animal enclosure, or even spices or perfume, can be put into their exhibit to add novel  and unique experiences.

Feeding options- a keeper may scatter an animal’s diet in the grass or skewer items onto branches throughout their exhibit, so the animal will have to forage to find their diet items, allowing the them to feed in a natural manner.

And the list can go on and on! These are just a few of the many ways keepers provide necessary and very important enrichment activities, providing the proper psychological wellbeing for our animals.  I think I can speak for the rest of my coworkers- enrichment is one of the favorite aspects of our jobs!

Next time you are visiting Oakland Zoo, take a moment to check out our lemurs moving it around our exhibit.  Is Queen Amy leading the troop to forage in the plum trees or initiating a mutual grooming session?  Has their keeper given them their diet in a box or scattered it about their exhibit?  If it’s a sunny day you might see them sitting in a “Buddha” like pose- soaking up the springtime sun! No matter what, you’re bound to see real lemurs “moving it” just like real lemurs should!

Do you want to get up close and personal with our lemurs here at the Zoo? Purchase a raffle ticket (or two!) to win such a one-of-a-kind experience! During your visit, our lemurs will actually paint a work of art for you to keep. Email genny@oaklandzoo.org to purchase tickets. All proceeds from the raffle go to conservation of lemurs in the wild.

 

 

Learning how to train animals…

by | March 10th, 2014
Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

I recently had the privilege of attending a workshop on Contemporary Animal Training and Management hosted by

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Natural Encounters, Inc. in Florida.  It was an amazing educational experience, and I honestly can’t stop thinking about it.

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

The 5 day workshop followed a format that balanced both theoretical presentations and practical hands-on training sessions. Experienced animal trainers and animal behavior scientists were on hand to share their expertise and answer our endless list of questions.  I got the opportunity to network with dozens of other zoo professionals, dog trainers, and companion parrot owners.  The challenge after any workshop, conference, or seminar that I participate in is applying my new or improved skills with the animals that I work with at the Oakland Zoo.  Fortunately, this challenge is the reason I love my job!

You may be wondering why we bother with animal training, who we train, or how we train.  Training has been described as the ultimate form of enrichment.  The application of enrichment seeks to stimulate our animals both physically and mentally while also empowering them to make their own choices and control their environments.  Perhaps that’s a bit of a “wordy” description of the concept.  Bottom line is the animal gets to exercise their brain and often their body by doing something…anything really.  At the Oakland Zoo, we do all kinds of training with all kinds of animals.  Leonard, our male African lion, is trained to place his paw on an x-ray plate and hold still for x-rays.  Tiki, one of our Reticulated giraffe, is trained to present her feet for hoof trimmings and acupuncture treatments. Torako, one of our tigers, is trained to position her tail through a hatch so that Zookeepers can safely draw blood from a vein in her tail.  The flock of Red-bellied Parrots in our Savannah Aviary exhibit are trained to perch on particular stations so that Zookeepers can examine them daily.

You may be noticing a theme.  Many of our training goals seek to empower the animal to willingly and eagerly participate in their own husbandry and medical care.  All of these animals have the choice to walk away in the middle of a training session if they want.  Ultimately, this allows the animal AND the Zookeeper to function in a low-stress, highly reinforcing tandem.  The animal is having fun, and the Zookeeper is having fun!

Thanks for reading!  I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures from the Contemporary Animal Training and Management workshop.