Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

96 a day, 96 await . . .

by | February 10th, 2014
African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 74% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.

African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 76% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.

This is the number of African elephants that are currently being killed every day for their tusks. In 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants, by 1989 there remained only 600,000. In 1989, an international ban on selling ivory was created which decreased its value and stopped the demand . . . but only temporarily. Many of the countries in Africa have stockpiles of ivory from seizures and pre-1989, and some of those countries were given permission to have one-off sales of those stockpiles to primarily Asian countries, which in change created demand and increased value once again. In the last decade elephant numbers have begun to plummet and now there is an estimated 400,000 or fewer left. That’s a 76% decline in the overall elephant population, and over 3/4‘s of the forest elephants that live in Central Africa. If rates continue at this level elephants may be nearing extinction in ten years.

The tusks or ivory of an elephant is a very desirable material and the only way to obtain the tusks of an elephant is to kill them. Due to a growing middle class in China and the ivory being used as a symbol of “status quo”, the demand for ivory is at an all-time high. The estimated cost per 1 kg (2.2 lbs) is $1800.00 US dollars. If an average female elephant has about 10 kg of ivory, than

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

each elephant is worth $18,000.00 dollars, and that’s wholesale. The retail value of 10 kg can be sold for $60,000 dollars! The incentive is paramount. The money that is being generated by wildlife trafficking is a 7-10 billion dollar industry, which ranks fifth globally behind trafficking in drugs, humans, oil, and counterfeiting. Even worse, the trafficking is dominated by well-organized syndicates that operate as transnational criminal networks and often participate in other illegal activities, including trafficking in narcotics and weapons, and some have links with terrorist networks. Visit my blog for more information on the history of the trade (www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2012/03/14/of-tusks-and-terror-the-truth-about-ivory/).

Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.

Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.

Shockingly, besides Asian markets, the United States is in the top ten nations to import ivory. Much of this trade is legal under a confusing set of U.S. regulations that perpetuates black market sales of illegal ivory. Simply put, pre-ban ivory or “legacy” ivory is still legal to sell, but once the illegal ivory gets into these countries, the ivory is almost impossible to differentiate. Although permits are required for proof of the ivory being legal, they are easy to manipulate and fake. New York is the number one market, and San Francisco the second biggest market in the U.S. So sad, and so close to home.

Ask yourself this: Can I live in a world with no elephants? Here are some reasons why elephants are so important to this world.

Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants.

Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants. Photo by author.

Elephants are a keystone species. Elephants play a very important role in their ecosystem, clearing away brush that therefore creates a clearing for other species, making available food sources for those species available. They also dig for water, creating pools for other animals to drink from. Without them, other species cannot survive.

  • Earth’s constant gardeners. Through their “digested leftovers” elephants are seed dispersers, helping to replenish their habitat, and regrow food sources for other species.
  • Complex beings. Elephants are extremely intelligent, emotional, and complex beings, living in a matriarchal society the females are bonded for life. The matriarch whom has had years of training and information handed down from her mom, plays a critical role in the herds survival. Often the matriarchs are being killed first for their larger tusks, creating broken herds, who are having a much harder time surviving without her. Elephants have self-awareness, and also mourn their dead.

How Oakland Zoo is helping.

Oakland Zoo has always been on the forefront of supporting elephant conservation awareness as well as advocacy for elephants in captivity, promoting natural history and behaviors through proper management. Amboseli Trust for Elephants (www.elephanttrust.org), led by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss, have been one of our partners for eighteen years and through our annual Celebrating Elephants Day and Evening Lecture we have been able to raise over 250,000 dollars over the years. This money goes straight to the project, helping support their research as well as protect the elephants in the park.

We are proud to announce a new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society through their campaign called 96 Elephants. The “96” campaign is on board

Welcome Oakland Zoo's new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society's 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.

Welcome Oakland Zoo’s new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.

with the Clinton Global Initiative, CGI, who announced their commitment in September of 2013 with a plan, “Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants” which includes other NGO partners and nation leaders. Along with over 111 partners, many of which are AZA Accredited institutions, “96” plans to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. Collectively zoos play a powerful role in conservation efforts.  With so many resources at our fingertips as well as a very large audience of visitors it is our job to do what we can to help support organizations that are fighting for the survival of hundreds of threatened species. Through collaborative efforts with world citizens, partners, and change makers, this campaign will focus on: securing effective United States moratorium laws; bolstering elephant protection with additional funding; and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis. We are excited to be joining this campaign and look forward to collaborating with such a hard working group of people.

Oakland Zoo will help the 96 Elephants campaign through the following ways:

  • Financial support: Stopping the killing of elephants is critical but cannot be done without more financial support to the rangers that are there to protect them. Boosting this support will help increase numbers of guards, provide them with high tech tools such as drones and live cameras to track poachers,
    Specially trained sniffer dogs accompany rangers to help stop ivory trafficking. Photo copyright Ruth Starkey/WCS.

    Specially trained sniffer dogs accompany rangers to help stop ivory trafficking. Photo copyright Ruth Starkey/WCS.

    and hire specially trained sniffer dogs to find smuggled ivory in ports and trading hubs.

  • Awareness: Educating the public is critical in creating the connection between ivory consumption and elephant poaching. In tabling at the zoo, I have personally found that many people thought that an elephant shed their tusks just like teeth! Media promotion through live news, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to promote the campaign is crucial in spreading the word about the crisis.
  • Legislation: Oakland Zoo will make every effort to support and promote online petitions and letter writing campaigns. We will also help support working on legislation for moratorium or ban on selling ivory right here in California!

How you can help.

  • Don’t buy ivory!
  • Go online to www.96elephants.org to read more detail about the campaign and elephants.
  • Donate to the campaign.
  • Sign the petition, and participate in letter writing campaigns. So far, over 113,000 constituents have taken advocacy action and sent a combined 196,000 emails to Congress, President Obama, and Secretary of the Interior Jewell.
  • Promote the campaign through your blog and social media channels
  • Talk to your friends and spread the word about what’s going on.

Please do what you can to help elephants, nothing you can contribute is too small! Remember, another day . . . another 96 await.

Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!

Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!

 

Please join Oakland Zoo for our 18th Annual Celebrating Elephants (www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=800). Saturday May 17th at 6pm in the Zimmer Auditorium, Dr. Vicki Fishlock, Research Associate of Amboseli Trust for Elephants will be our inspirational guest speaker. Dr. Fishlock will present her experience working with African elephants as part of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. Silent auction items to bid on and refreshments to dine on. Saturday, May 24th from 10am to 4pm will be our day long zoo event, which includes barn tours with an opportunity to see Oakland Zoo’s cutting edge management, create treats for the elephants, and watch Circus Finelli, an animal free circus. All proceeds go to ATE.

The Lions of Oakland Zoo…Sandy & Leonard

by | February 7th, 2014
Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

 

If you’ve been to the Zoo, you’ve likely seen Sandy & Leonard, lounging around in their expansive exhibit, soaking up the sun or enjoying some animal enrichment their loving ZooKeepers so carefully laid out for them earlier that morning. Their presence is awe inspiring, to say the least. It’s hard to believe it has been almost one and a half decades since they arrived here as cubs at Oakland Zoo.  Many people don’t know the history of these two- siblings, actually- so we’d like to share their story with you.

They were the first rescued lions to be placed in a zoo by the Houston SPCA. It was July, 2000 in Crockett, Texas.  Police entered a suspect’s property on an unrelated warrant and found 14 exotic cats and a wolf. Houston SPCA seized all the animals and was given custody of them after the owner had been found to have cruelly treated the animals: depriving them of necessary food, care, and shelter. Two of the cats were 4-month old lion cubs; they were starving, dehydrated, flea ridden, and their coats were patchy and dry.  The Houston SPCA provided them with housing and veterinary care and a month later, they arrived to us, via Continental Airlines, here at Oakland Zoo.

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Thus named “Sandy” and “Leonard” the two resided in our Veterinary Care Center while they gained weight and strength. At the time, the Zoo already had an established lion pride, so a separate outdoor holding area was constructed adjacent to the existing lion exhibit, called ‘Simba Pori’.

As the cubs grew, ZooKeepers began plans to introduce Sandy and Leonard to our four resident mature lions, Victor, Marika, Sophie and Maddie. In January 2001, Sandy and Leonard moved up to the lion night house. The introduction and integration of the lions had moderate success. The youngsters did well with our adult male, Victor, and one adult female, Marika, but the other two females did not appreciate their presence.  As with domestic cats, you never know how felines will get along! We took our cues from the lions’

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

behaviors and decided to manage the lions as separate groups. Over the years, in 2010, the older lions succumbed to age-related illnesses (2 from kidney disease and 2 from cancer). So, today, Sandy and Leonard have taken ownership of the lion exhibit, the night house, and the hearts of staff, ZooKeepers and guests alike.

While their beginnings in the exotic animal trade surely could have destined them to a life of cruelty, we were fortunate to have been able to provide them with a safe and forever home here at the zoo.

Parent’s Night Out

by | January 29th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperHey Kids!  Zena the Zookeeper here. Want to spend an evening at the Zoo without your parents? Well here’s your chance because we have a brand-new program we’d love for you to come to. It’s actually called “Parent’s Night Out” but don’t let the name fool you – it’s going to be blast for you, too. “Parent’s Night Out” lets your parents free to have an evening to themselves, I don’t know, doing whatever they like to do! The good news is, it means YOU get to come to the zoo for all sorts of fun at the same time!

Your parents will drop you off at the zoo in the early evening, and the fun begins! Our awesome education staff will greet you, and then take you and your newly-made friends to dinner – here at the zoo of course. Then, with the Zoo closed to the public, you get a super special nighttime private tour to see some of the nocturnal animals here. You might think the Zoo is a quiet place at night, but that’s not the case at all. Our spotted hyenas, lions and great-horned owls can be heard whooping, roaring and hooting off-and-on from sundown to sunup. At night in our Bug House, New Guinea walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches giant African millipedes skitter in the dark, looking for food. And then, there are my favorites: our beautiful bats, called Island and Malayan Flying Foxes. We also have some nocturnal frogs and geckos.

After the tour, we’ll head back to our auditorium to meet an animal up close! We’ll play some games and end the night with a movie you’re sure to love. Your parent(s) will pick you up after your fun-filled and exciting night and you can tell them all about the cool new adventures you had at the Zoo! Well, that’s it for now. Hope to see you there, on February 14th. Mark your calendars and make your reservation today!

The Majestic Elephants at Oakland Zoo…

by | January 21st, 2014

Often, we at the Zoo are asked about the history of our majestic and beautiful African elephants. In her blog below, Gina Kinzley, Oakland Zoo Elephant Keeper, shares a little of the history and personalities of Donna, M’Dunda, Osh and Lisa. Now that you know them a bit more intimately, come to the Zoo and say hi! You can also see how Gina ‘trains’ our elephants to for situations involving medical procedures, foot-maintenance, and mental stimulation exercises in this video, filmed recently.

The African Elephants of Oakland Zoo:

All of the girls come from Africa originally, but their families were killed in a culling. Culling is the very controversial method of population management. At that time, the young orphans were caught and sold for profit, which is how they ended up in the United States. I won’t name the previous facilities that they were all at, but all of them have a history of abuse in ‘free contact’ management. At Oakland Zoo, we practice ‘protected contact’, as we explain is for the safety of the both our elephants and their keepers, in the HBO documentary “Apology to Elephants”.

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Donna, 34, came to OZ in 1989. She very quickly became the the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls and loves to have big play bouts at nighttime with large tractor tires and will charge 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.elephantpedi

M’Dunda, 44, came to OZ 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 solicit play from Osh, and is often spotted at night over the fenceline 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 also has long beautiful tusks.

Lisa, 36, has been at OZ since she has been 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, and will take daily dips if the weather is right! She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

Osh, 19, has been at OZ since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born and 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 act toward him, so we gave him a home here. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, loves to play, browse and graze.

At Oakland Zoo we care deeply about the well-being of elephants in captivity, as well as their conservation in the wild. Currently 96 elephants a day in Africa are being killed for their tusks, or ivory. Now that you’ve learned about how intelligent, unique, and beautiful our elephants are here at the zoo, please visit www.96elephants.org for more information on how you can help elephants in the wild. This issue is very important to us, and increasing public awareness is a priority. Stay tuned over the coming months for more information about the fight against the illegal ivory trade and the work of www.96elephants.org.

Food favorites: Pumpkins, Melons, and Pineapples. Want to feed our elephants? Come to our next Feast for the Beasts event on March 29th!