Archive for the ‘Veterinary Care’ Category

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.

It Takes A Village: Hope for Mountain Lions

by | March 3rd, 2014

What a primal joy to awake each morning on the east side of the Bay Bridge in the beautiful Bay Area and know that somewhere up in the hills, quietly walking, sleeping, purring or chirping, caring for cubs, or hunting –  are lions. Lions! Known as mountain lion, cougar, puma and panther, the elusive “cat of one color” has inspired more names—40 in English alone— than any other animal in the world. The mountain lion is the biggest wild cat in North America and has the largest geographic range of any carnivore in the Western Hemisphere.  Mountain lions can be found from the Yukon to the southern Andes. Here in the Bay Area, lions are known to roam the Santa Cruz Mountains, and varies ranges in the East Bay, near me.

Chris Wilmers, a professor of environmental studies at the University of California Santa Cruz, is leading a team of scientists on the so-called Bay Area Puma Project, which hopes to tag mountain lions to study their movements, range, habits and physiology.

Chris Wilmers, a professor of environmental studies at the University of California Santa Cruz, is leading a team of scientists on the so-called Bay Area Puma Project, which hopes to tag mountain lions to study their movements, range, habits and physiology.

Our mountain lions are much different than African lions in that they are solitary and maintain territories that average 100 square miles in size. Males are highly protective of their large domains and will fight to defend it. A fortunate mountain lion can live a 10-12 year life in the wild. They eat deer and other small mammals which helps keep ecosystems balanced and healthy.

The status of mountain lions is very much in question. Though true populations in the United States, Mexico, Central and South America is virtually unknown, experts estimate 30,000 in the United States. Per the Mountain Lion Foundation’s sources, the California’s statewide population of mountain lions is approximately 4,000 animals and dropping.

As mountain lion habitat is increasingly fragmented and movement corridors are blocked by human development, more sightings and encounters with mountain lions are causing challenges.  Mountain lions are being killed more often by cars and depredation permits (issued when livestock or pets are attacked), and increasing news reports of mountain lion encounters are driving growing public concern for both people and the cats.

As the Conservation Director at Oakland Zoo, I work very closely with wildlife conservation issues all over the world, and habitat loss and the resulting human-wildlife conflict is a challenge we all share, whether that is elephants, tigers, African lions or our own apex predator. I have learned that it takes all stakeholders coming together to truly offer hope for these species.

Now, for the good news: in the Bay Area, mountain lions have friends. One of these friends is the Bay Area Puma Project, who is bringing their international cat research expertise home to the East bay with the aim of understanding these cats and improving our local co-existence with them. Oakland Zoo supports these efforts (they were our Quarters for Conservation project in 2013) and is excited to share their expertise with our public on March 5th at our Conservation Speaker Series event, Saving the Puma.

Other advocates are the Mountain Lion Foundation, the East Bay Regional Park District, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, to name a few.

On New Year’s Day, Senate Bill 132 went into effect, which allows the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with nongovernmental groups in capturing, tranquilizing or relocating the animals. With this new bill, and the new and improved policies of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, wardens and their supporting organizations will capture or scare off mountain lions unless they pose an imminent threat to people or public safety. Oakland Zoo is honored to help with this progressive effort.

In fact, Oakland Zoo has embraced mountain lion conservation in many ways. As we join forces with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we are committed to both participate in response to mountain lion conflict calls, and to offer care for a mountain lion in need of recovery before it is hopefully released back into the wild. We are also assisting the Bay Area Puma Project with their vital research and launching various outreach and education programs to create greater mountain lion awareness.

What a joy to look out into those hills and feel thanks to working alliances, our own conservation village, there is hope for a peaceful co-existence with our very own native lion.

Helpful links about Mountain Lions and more

 

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.

Conservation On-Site: The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog

by | January 29th, 2014

As you visit Oakland Zoo this winter and spring you may notice that the animals and projects we are supporting at our Quarters for Conservation booth in Flamingo Plaza have changed.   I would like you to pay special attention to the developing partnership with the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog project.   This project teams up Oakland Zoo with San Francisco State University in bringing awareness to and supporting the recovery of this critically endangered species that is found right here in the mountains of California.

Yellow-legged_frog_Point_Reyes

Once one of the most numerous species found in their alpine habitat in the Sierra Nevada, Transverse, and Peninsular ranges they are now one of the rarest despite this habitat being found in some of the most well-managed and inaccessible areas of the state.    During some of the initial research looking into this decline the focus was on the impact and removal of game fish that were introduced to their alpine habitats, such as trout.   The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog evolved in a habitat where such efficient predators were not common and the eggs, tadpoles, and frogs themselves became easy prey.  With the management and removal of these introduced fish species some areas showed rapid recovery of frogs.    However, some did not, and in fact the overall population continued to decline.    The emerging disease known as the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) was found to be the cause of this continued decline and was attacking the frogs during one of their most sensitive transitions in life, the one between tadpole and juvenile life stages.    The chytrid fungus works by attacking the keratin in the skin of juvenile and adult frogs preventing them from being able to use their skin to respirate and exchange water leading to their deaths, wiping out whole populations.   For some reason the disease does not affect the tadpoles of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, but it will remain with them through the several years they spend as a tadpole.    This makes the tadpoles, along with several other frog species that are not affected, a means to not only infect their own kind with this deadly fungus, but to make it almost impossible to eliminate from the environment.

With this revelation the focus to save the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog changed to not only manage and remove non-native fish, but to support the frogs in gaining resistance to the chytrid fungus during this transition in their life.   The support comes in the form of a bacterium called Janthinobacterium lividum.    The bacteria was discovered on the skin of a fellow amphibian, the red-backed salamander, and later discovered to also be present on the skins of Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog in varying levels.   This bacterium has the unique feature of having anti-fungal properties and when found in greater numbers on amphibian skin can help to increase resistance to the chytrid fungus.    Now, in steps Dr. Vance Vredenburg and the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog Project.   Dr. Vredenburg has been pioneering skin bio augmentation treatments using Janthinobacterium lividum to support juvenile frogs that are being rereleased or will be re-released into their habitats in both Northern and Southern California.     Through a partnership with San Diego Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, and soon Oakland Zoo, San Francisco State University is hoping to tip the balance for these frogs by collecting them as eggs from their habitat, hatching them in captivity, raise them to juvenile frogs, treating them with this anti-chytrid bacterium, and release them back into their natal ponds and streams.   It is hoped that not only will this prove to provide long term resistance to chytrid, but will be naturally passed between frogs as they naturally congregate together in the shallows off the banks of the rivers and lakes they live.

If you are interested in learning more about the plight of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and supporting them as well during their most vulnerable transitions you can join us on Wednesday February 5th at 6:30 p.m. in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium at our Conservation Speaker Series event when Dr. Vance Vredenburg joins us to discuss his work with the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and the implications his research has to save this and potentially numerous other amphibian species worldwide.

 by Victor Alm, Zoological Manager

 

Western Pond Turtles get a hand at Oakland Zoo!

by | August 22nd, 2013
zena-the-zookeeperHey there, fellow conservation heroes! Do I have an important conservation program to tell you about today, and it’s taking place right here at Oakland Zoo!  It’s a ‘head start” program for the endangered Western Pond Turtle. These adorable little guys were once plentiful and lived all over the entire West Coast – from British Columbia in Canada, all the way down to Baja California near Mexico.

pond_turtle

But today, they’re only found in a few parts of California, Oregon and a couple of places in Washington State. That’s because they’ve lost a lot of their habitat and are being eaten by non-native predators – including another kind of turtle that isn’t native to California.  It’s really sad. 
 
See how tiny the baby Western Pond Turtle is?  Because they grow very slowly in the wild, it takes them a long time to grow big enough to escape or fight off non-native predators like the American Bullfrog and Largemouth Bass who love to snatch them up and snack on them. The other species bullying these guys is the red-eared slider turtle. Many red-eared slider turtles were once somebody’s pet, but people sometimes release them into the wild when they get too big, and that’s bad news for the smaller, shyer Western Pond Turtle. Our little friend loses out to the bigger guys on food resources and warm spots to lie in the sun in their habitat.
 
But the GOOD NEWS is that we are raising hatchlings right here at the Zoo in our brand-new Bio-Diversity Center!  With our ZooKeepers taking care of these babies with plenty of nutrient-rich foods and veterinary care, they grow in just one year to the size it would take them three or four years to reach in the wild. Then, when we release them into the wild they are big enough to protect themselves and have a much better chance of survival. Right now, we are raising 44 Western Pond Turtles for release next year, and the babies are doing great so far!
 
So remember fellow conservation heroes, please don’t release pet turtles into the wild.  Help keep our lake areas clean, welcoming places for Western Pond Turtles. And be sure to teach others all about the amazing Western Pond Turtle!

A Big Sur Adventure into Condor Country

by | December 20th, 2012

A couple of months ago, I had an incredible opportunity to tag along with our Associate Veterinarian, Dr. Goodnight and my boss, Nancy Filippi on a trip to Ventana Wildlife Society in Big Sur, CA. The trip began very early in the morning with a wake up time of 5:00am. I picked up Dr. Goodnight in Pleasanton and we carpooled down to Big Sur. Nancy traveled down to Carmel the night before and met us at Ventana at 10am.  If you haven’t made the trip to this gorgeous coastal area, I highly suggest it. I had driven through the town once prior and was instantly reminded that I need to bring my husband back. The views of the ocean are breathtaking. It reminds me how lucky I am to be a Californian and that I have the opportunity to travel to these areas during a day trip.

Not only were the views a bonus of this work trip, we also had the pleasure of meeting Kelly Sorenson. We spent a great deal of time with Kelly traveling up into the mountains of Big Sur. Luckily, he had a 4×4 truck that was able to take on the steep terrain and dips in the dirt road. The road was definitely rough and one less traveled. Through the twists and turns, it took us probably 2.5 hours to drive up the mountain to the California Condor research camp. No one got car sick; however, I was a little queasy and requested the front seat for the trip down the mountain.

Once we reached the research area, Kelly hiked us down a very steep mountainside to an area where they feed carcasses to condors, monitor the giant birds, and test them for lead poisoning. The hike down was extremely scary. I have weak ankles and kept thinking that my life could flash before me at any moment should one of them give out. I pictured myself rolling down the mountain and being stuck without a way out. A helicopter rescue would be dangerous in such conditions. As those thoughts flashed before me, I kept reminding myself to stay focused on the task at hand…getting to the research area. Once we made it to “the spot,” you instantly knew you were there, not by the obvious structure, but by the stench. California Condors feed on dead carcasses and the smell is so strong. It was one of those moments I wished I had the handkerchief my Dad always has in his back pocket. That would have come in handy during this smelly situation. But, I was in the company of Kelly, the Executive Director of Ventana Wildlife Society, a researcher, two interns, a veterinarian, a FedEx Public Relations Executive, and my boss. I had to buck up and quote unquote “deal with it.”

The purpose of the trip was to acquire footage of the California condors, the research being done, and to also to interview Kelly Sorenson of Ventana Wildlife Society about a project he has invested decades of his career into saving. The Ventana Wildlife Society’s goal is to save the California Condor from extinction. In 1987, there were only twenty-seven birds left in the wild. They were on the verge of becoming extinct due to hunting, poisoning, habitat loss, and electrical power lines. However, with the help of the Ventana Wildlife Society, the LA Zoo and the San Diego Zoo, the wild population today is around 200 birds. A captive breeding effort and rehabilitation program has helped bring the numbers up and has provided researchers with more knowledge on how to save the species. One of the main threats right now, is lead poisoning. Lead poisoning sounds crazy, but these birds are scavengers and they feed on dead carcasses. Some of the dead carcasses have lead fragments in them, remnants from a hunter that may not be aware of how his ammunition is impacting a bird that has found a free meal.

In late October, Oakland Zoo joined the LA Zoo in helping to rehabilitate condors with lead poisoning. Once a bird has tested positive, it is identified in the field and will be transported to the Oakland Zoo for treatment. Dr. Goodnight and the Zoo’s Veterinary Medical Staff will put their expertise to work and will take aim at rehabilitating the bird back to health, so it can then be released back into the wild.

The prehistoric looking bird has a wing span of six feet long. Their beauty isn’t in seeing them up-close; instead, it is the majesty of their flight that can take your breath away. They are able to glide over mountain tops and are just incredible to watch. While at the research camp, there were two condors that were flying above us with the blue skyline as a backdrop. I had to pinch myself a few times to be reminded that what I was watching was real. As my boss was filming the footage around us, my eyes were taking in the scenery, making memory notes that I was sure I could never forget.

I can still see the Executive Director of Ventana Wildlife Society in my mind as he sat on a huge rock with the Pacific Ocean behind him and mountain tops around him. Nancy and I did a thirty minute interview with Kelly where I asked him in-depth questions about the plight of the California Condor and the efforts to save this bird. The interview was used for a video Nancy and I recently completed. The goal of the video is to make more people aware about a bird that may not be as beautiful as a bald eagle, but it’s definitely an animal worth saving. Oakland Zoo Links up with California Condor Recovery Program