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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:

THE ICONIC BISON

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 TODAY

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.

VOTE BISON

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: www.VoteBison.org

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!

American_bison_k5680-1

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!

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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!  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 www.oaklandzoo.org 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 www.worldlionday.com

 

 

 

 

 

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.
2014-12-01-MaasaiWarriorJumps9.8ftduringMaasaiOlympics
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!

Oakland Zoo ZooKeepers to Madagascar!

by | February 18th, 2015

Madagascar

Madagascar.

When you see that word, what do you think? I will guess most of you will say “that DreamWorks cartoon!” King Julian!” or “I like to move it, move it!”

As a keeper at Oakland Zoo, I care for two species of lemur; Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) and Sclater’s lemurs (Eulemur flavifrons) and I think of the word “Madagascar” a little different than most. I immediately think of lemurs as well as orchids, chameleons, rainforests, fossa and many, many other unique and endangered species.1

There’s no place in the world like Madagascar. Formed over 88 million years ago, it is the world’s 4th largest island and 90% of its animals are found nowhere else on the planet! Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be able to visit such an amazing destination, but, indeed I did!

In November of 2014 my supervisor Margaret Rousser and I were invited by the director and founder of Centre ValBio, Dr. Patricia Wright, to visit her research center in Ranomafana National Park and assist in the capture and data collection of the park’s Milne-Edward sifaka’s (Propithecus edwardsi).

After a 27 hour flight from San Francisco and a 10 hour drive from Antananarivo, the country’s capitol, we finally reached the rainforest and Centre ValBio. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Mysterious. Downright awesome. These are the words that went through my mind as we arrived.

After resting up overnight after our long flight and equally exhaustive drive we were ready to see the park.

Elizabeth holding a recovering adult

Elizabeth holding a recovering adult

Along the length of the eastern Madagascan coast runs a narrow and steep escarpment containing much of the island’s remaining tropical lowland forest. Ranomafana National Park is located on this escarpment. The terrain is extremely hilly and trekking through the forest is challenging as the majority of the time you are ascending or descending these hills. My favorite areas were the ridge trails. Once you reach the ridges, you get a break from the extreme climbing and get to enjoy the views on either side of the hills.

On our first visit into Ranomafana Park with Dr. Wright, Margaret and I were able to see 5 different species of lemurs! To say we were lucky is not enough. Dr. Wright has been studying lemurs in this location for 30 years and was pleased and surprised at seeing so many lemur species on a single visit. We capped our perfect lemur day with an interesting evening, observing students collect data on the world’s smallest primate, a mouse lemur.3

After a few days waiting for the government to finally approve the permits required to capture the Milne-Edwards sifaka’s, we were on our way back into the forest! After a grueling 5 hour hike to one of the park’s most remote sites we arrived to find the lemurs, ready for their exams and new collars. The trackers, who spend much of their time in the forest observing the whereabouts of the different lemur groups and know the individuals intimately, had anesthetized a group of three adults, one male, two females and two infants!

Putting on new ID collar (Photo Joan de la Malla)

Putting on new ID collar (Photo Joan de la Malla)

Margaret and I jumped into our roles immediately! Margaret led a group of graduate students, instructing them on obtaining body measurements along with hair, ectoparasite and fecal collection. I helped the vet with physical exams, blood collection and removal and replacement of new ID collars. This was a most amazing experience. The adult lemurs are given anesthesia to avoid undo stress as they are wild animals unused to being handled by humans. This ensures their safety as well as the humans’ handling them. The infant lemurs are not anesthetized and stay on their moms until the physical exam is performed. The babies are then held by a human until their mother is done with her exam and they are quickly returned to her. It may seem this is too stressful for the animal but the babies seem to feel secure as long as they have an adult primate to cling too. They contentedly sat in our arms, looking at all the things happening around them with no struggling our stressful vocalizations.

We stayed that night camping in the rainforest, which was an adventure in itself, with the lovely pit toilet and cute little leeches!  The next morning we awoke to the sounds of black and white ruffed lemur groups vocalizing around us. The Milne-Edwards sifakas were checked by the vet to ensure they all had recovered fully from the previous day and then the trackers returned them to the same location they had been captured so the lemurs could resume their normal daily life.

The rest of us returned to Centre ValBio’s laboratory where we began processing samples taken from the animals.

The second group we helped with a few days later was just as exciting but luckily only a 30 minute hike to the site instead of 5 hours! We had one adult male, two adult females and one infant. Again, all went well, and once recovered, the animals were returned to their original location.

Once done with our Ranomafana animal captures Margaret and I had a few days to see a little more of Madagascar when we traveled 4 hours by car to visit a village which ran their own lemur sanctuary. This was very exciting for us because at this location they only had one species- ring tailed lemurs!

Anja Community Reserve covers about 75 acres and nearly 300 RT lemurs call it home. It is completely operated by the villagers, who protect the forest, serve as guides and perform administrative tasks.

Mama and baby ring tailed lemur at Anja Community Reserve

Mama and baby ring tailed lemur at Anja Community Reserve

We arrived at dusk and could hear the lemurs calling to each other in the forest below our hotel, I got goose bumps as I immediately recognized the calls as they are the same vocalization I hear from my lemurs at Oakland Zoo! Early the next morning Margaret and I along with a guide and a tracker, headed into the reserve. I was soon choked up with joy as we encountered our first wild lemur group! These lemurs have all been desensitized to the proximity of humans and Margaret and I were able to get quite close. It was amazing to sit in the forest as 100s of lemurs meandered, scampered, jumped, vocalized and foraged all around us. Our guides had a vast knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna as this was their own backyard. They could spot a tiny chameleon who looked like a little twig to me, or another one that was the same green as the leaf he was sitting on!

November was the perfect time to visit Madagascar as there were many babies to be seen. So many cute little guys were riding their moms, daring to be brave and jumping to the ground only to be surprised by a blowing leaf and running back to the safety of momma’s back! It was interesting to see the large troupes of lemurs of all different ages combing the forest together. The older animals were much more interested in foraging for tasty fruit while the youngsters played tag through the trees!

Margaret and Elizabeth with Veterinarian Hajanirina Rakotondrainibe at Centre ValBio

Margaret and Elizabeth with Veterinarian Hajanirina Rakotondrainibe at Centre ValBio

Overall, the trip to Madagascar was an unforgettable journey. Seeing the country, its animals and people was a life changing event. I can’t wait to return to the beautiful Island and continue to see more of the amazing and unique things it has to offer!

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.