Archive for the ‘Veterinary Care’ Category

From Oakland to Africa – Diary of a ZooKeeper Day 3

by | January 20th, 2015

An infant bonobo laughing while getting towel-dried after her morning bath.

Mama Esperance giving the infant bonobos a bath.

At present time, there are five infant bonobos in the nursery. They range from 2 years to just over 4 years. During the night, they are kept together in an indoor enclosure. In the morning, the Mamas come and let them into their outdoor enclosure, where they will supervise them the entire day. Before this can happen, each bonobo receives a bath from a Mama. Sometimes, the babies get colds (just like us) and receive some vapor rub after their baths to help with the symptoms. They additionally get an oil rubbed all over them to help keep their skin healthy.

After each bonobo receives a post-bath bottle of milk, they are brought outside. The enclosure has a very nice set-up, with a jungle gym, a small pool and many tire swings. There is also a trampoline and this is where the bonobos are given three feedings a day, the same food the adults are receiving. The reasoning behind the feeding location is to help (somewhat) contain the food mess, so it can be cleaned up very thoroughly each night and rodents are not attracted to the area. This is a pretty common concern for keepers worldwide, but it is especially important at Lola ya Bonobo. Rats here carry a virus called Encephalomyocarditis virus, more commonly referred to as EMCV. This dreadful virus is found worldwide, although it comes in different strains which have different symptoms and levels of severity.  When apes in sanctuaries contract this virus, it is fatal and there is no known cure. Here at Lola alone, two bonobos have died from EMCV. From the first sign of symptoms (off-balance, unable to walk straight), it takes only two hours until an individual dies. It is constantly on the mind of the staff here.

Infant bonobo enclosure.

Socialization is crucial for the young bonobos to be psychologically healthy and well-developed.

Surrounding this play area is an electric fence, but the trees on both sides of the fence are plentiful and tall. The bonobos can easily climb up and onto other trees outside the fence. For the past few days, this has been very common, as there is a mango tree just on the other side of the fence and they are in season now. The first time I saw the babies going on one of these adventures, I urgently tried to tell the Mamas. They reassured me it wasn’t a problem. At this age, the young bonobos are still very dependent on the Mamas and may venture for a bit, but always return. This is proven any time a loud, unexpected noise occurs. The babies will rush to the nearest Mama and into her arms.

 

Practicing nest building.

The babies’ energy often seems endless, but there are slower times when things quiet down and the babies rest by the Mamas. Like any species of infant, they are curious about the world around them and sit and observe bugs crawling, make a game with a stick or just sometimes randomly break into somersaulting.

An offered kiss, a common sign of affection amongst bonobos.

Being here reminds me of the old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This is absolutely true of bonobos as well. I spoke with Susie, the ethologist (animal behavior researcher) on staff, about why it is so important for many people to interact with bonobos during this young stage. She explains that the bonobos are so social, that they need constant interaction during these crucial first years. Is it as good as having a real bonobo mother and community to interact with? No, of course not. In this awful situation so many orphaned bonobos find themselves in, it is the best replacement possible. Around the age of 3-4 years, the bonobos are slowly introduced into the juvenile group and weaned off the Mamas. They learn to shift into night houses (where they will now have visual access to adult bonobos) and become more dependent on each other. By the time they are ready to enter the adult groups, they are well-adjusted adolescents. Each of these steps is a very important piece of fulfilling Lola’s ultimate goal: Returning bonobos to the wild.

Susie, ethologist on staff.

Susie, ethologist on staff.

Of course, not all of these bonobos will be brought to Ekolo ya Bonobo, the release site in northern Democratic Republic of Congo. Part of Susie’s job is to have a strict list of requirements a bonobo must fulfill, such as does not seek interaction with humans over bonobos, socially confident in their community, can form alliances well with others. While the vet, the sanctuary manager and the keepers will have an input, ultimately Susie is the one to make the call if a release will be attempted for an individual. At this time, 15 bonobos have been released at Ekolo and three infants have been born to females in this group. The Ekolo community is followed daily by rangers to guard them, similar to what is done with the famous mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda. When Ekolo was originally chosen as the release site, not only had the bonobos been wiped out, but most of the wildlife as well. It was an empty forest. Now, with the presence of the bonobos, other wildlife is returning to the forest.

One thing you will notice about the bonobos currently in the nursery: They have all of their fingers and toes. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog entry, there is a common belief in DRC that giving a human infant a bath in water with a bonobo bone will help them grow-up strong and healthy. Meat is also very expensive. Congolese poachers will therefore kill an entire community of bonobos, except for the infants. Big money can be made selling the infants to rich families as pets or into zoos and circuses in Asia. However, every bit of bone you can get is also worth a lot of money, so infants have come in missing fingers. Lola ya Bonobo and Ekolo ya Bonobo has worked very hard to educate the public and it is clearly paying-off, as less and less bonobo infants are coming in with missing digits. While foreign tourists must pay money to come to the sanctuary, national Congolese are given a big discount and school groups pay nothing. This is Claudine Andre’s philosophy, as she knows education (in particular to children) is the best thing that can be done to protect the future of the bonobo.

 

From Oakland to Africa – Diary of a ZooKeeper Day 2

by | January 16th, 2015

“Lola ya Bonobo” means Paradise of the Bonobos and this sanctuary for orphaned bonobos truly lives up to its name. The only country in the world that bonobos exist in is the Democratic Republic of Congo. DRC is also the poorest country in the world. Bonobos are hunted for bushmeat, traditional medicinal practices and the babies are taken into the pet trade. One traditional belief is if you bathe a human newborn in water with a piece of bonobo bone, they will grow-up strong and healthy. Many of the infants that have found their way to Lola are missing digits because of this belief.

Oakland ZooKeeper Natasha Tworoski with infant bonobos

Oakland ZooKeeper Natasha Tworoski with infant bonobo

The objective of Lola ya Bonobo is to Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release. Confiscated infants caught in transit on the black market pet trade are brought to the sanctuary and placed with a human substitute mother, called a Mama. Each infant has to be handled in a different manner, depending on the infant’s experiences. Some infants are healthy and have been living with humans for a while, so they are trusting. Others are sick and traumatized, once bonded to a Mama, they do not want to be with anyone else. The more severe cases require someone to be with the infant 24/7.

Group 2 bonobos.A young Group 2 bonobo.

 

The Mama will come in every day and at night, the infant stays with the veterinarian who lives on ground, until the infant has the confidence to be separated and with other Mamas. Besides psychological health, the physical health of the infant must also be taken into consideration. A new infant will be quarantined for one month and blood tests will be run to check for rabies, tuberculosis, papillomavirus and SIV (the bonobo equivalent of HIV). Once this has been accomplished, the infant is introduced to the “petit nursery.” Here, the Mamas spend the entire day observing and caring for the infants as they gain confidence and independence, interacting with everyone, not just their Mama. Once they reach a certain level of independence, they are moved to the juvenile nursery. They still are under close supervision, but now only by one Mama or zookeeper. They begin to depend more on their fellow bonobos for social interaction. Finally, the adolescents will be integrated into one of the three adult group enclosures.

My first morning at the sanctuary, I walked the 1.5 mile path around the perimeter with Gaspard. Gaspard is a young Belgian man who is en route to a school in South Africa for wildlife management. At 19, he is one of the most well-traveled people I’ve met, as well as easy-going and passionate about animals. He is also fluent in English and very willing to translate questions I have to the French-speaking staff. As you walk the path, you pass the enclosure for Group 1, then Group 3 and finally Group 2. We arrived at Group 2 just in time to see the morning feeding. Papa Jean-Claude is the head zookeeper for Group 2 and one of the happiest men I’ve ever met, he has worked for other zoos throughout the Congo, but had a very strong desire to be a bonobo keeper. He explains the first feeding is primarily vegetables, the second feeding is mostly fruit and the last feeding of the day is sugar cane. This is the same for all the adult groups.

Jean-Claude and Gaspard.

This past year, the sanctuary had to deal with a growing problem. Local farmers knew just how dependent Lola was on produce, they needed to buy it no matter what. So the price was continually growing at exponential rates. Fanny, the manager, came up with a great idea. Now Lola gives out the seeds of the produce they need to local farmers for free, including lessons on how to grow each type. They then ask the farmers to sell back the produce and have a contract to an agreed upon price that is fair. The program has been successful for the most part, although some of the farmers have discovered they can get a better price in Kinshasa and are opting to do that. The sanctuary is still receiving enough produce from the farmers who are interested and it is likely others will return since they are not guaranteed to sell all their produce in town and the cost of transporting it there is very high as well.

 

Jean-Claude feeding the Group 2 bonobos.

As I eagerly try to photograph every moment of the feeding, I zoom in on two bonobos having sex. Jean-Claude, who speaks a little English, says, “Sex. Make love, not war,” and bursts into laughter. He’s right, this the phrase the media loves to use when talking about bonobos. While they look nearly identical to chimpanzees, their behavior could not be more different. Bonobos are a female-dominated society and while aggression does exist, it does not escalate anywhere near the levels seen in chimpanzees and most other primates. There is no record of a bonobo, wild or captive, killing another bonobo. Their secret? Sex. It is used to strengthen bonds, build new alliances and resolve conflict. Whom a bonobo has sex with is independent of age and sex, because a huge majority of the time, it has nothing to do with procreation. This has not been seen in another species in the animal kingdom…except for humans, of course.

Donations to Lola ya Bonobo.

We finish our looparound the perimeter and head back to the veranda of the main house, where the offices and kitchen are also located. Fanny is there, working hard to get in touch with a media organization running a story on Lola ya Bonobo. When she is done, I ask to show her the donations I brought from Oakland. From Oakland Zoo, this includes 11 brand new long-sleeved shirts, 5 pairs of boots, suture materials and flea treatment for the dogs and cats the sanctuary has also taken in. Oakland Zoo volunteers and staff have also given sheets, small blankets and a rain jacket. I brought scented soaps and perfumes for the Mamas, vitamins for the bonobos and candy and stickers for the children visitors. All of it is received with the greatest appreciation, as these things are either very difficult to get in DRC or very expensive. I immediately regret not bringing more! My favorite story from the donations is Allain. Allain is a small man and when the sanctuary has bulk ordered boots in the past, even the smallest size has been too big for him. One of the pairs of boots that Oakland Zoo donated was quite small and so they were offered to him. When he put them on, Fanny asked if they fit and he said, “Yes. I can run in these.”

We soon sit to have lunch and I can feel the jet lag sitting in. I feel like a little kid who missed her nap, that I might soon be asleep with my face in my meal, but I am fighting it with everything ounce of strength I have. I don’t want to miss a thing. Next, I am going to go meet the infant bonobos in the nursery- now is not the time to fall asleep.

Oakland Zoo ZooKeepers in the Field in Madagascar!

by | November 20th, 2014

AWE!

Awesome is really the only way to describe Centre ValBio. The Brain Child of Dr. Patricia Wright, it is a state of the art research center located steps away from Ranomafana National Park. The raw beauty of the native flora and fauna of Madagascar surrounds you from every angle. At the same, time, the Centre has two floors of dorm rooms and several state of the art laboratories for researchers and study abroad students from all over the world. The sheer amount of research that is possible here is staggering, and the hard working staff atCentre ValBio make the most of it! There are also several satellite camps out in the forest where researchers and students can stay while doing observations. The Centre, however is home base, with electricity, Wifi, and hot showers right on the edge of the Park. One of the few places where primary forest still survives, you can easily run into several species of lemurs on one morning hike.

We were fortunate enough to have Dr. Wright give us a personal tour of a small section of the forest on our first day here.. She showed us her first campsite in the forest some 28 years ago, when she first discovered a new species of lemur. That lemur, the golden bamboo lemur, just happened to be the first one we saw in the wild in the forest – and we saw it with her! On the first trek, we also saw sifakas, red bellied lemurs and red fronted lemurs. We even saw black and white ruffed lemurs, which are not often found in that particular part of the forest.

Slash and BurnBamboo lemur

Centre Val Bio

One of the most striking things I saw on the trek, however, was not the lemurs, but the interactions between Dr. Wright and the locals. Ranomafana National Park is becoming more and more an eco-tourist site, similar to the model used in Rwanda with mountain gorillas. Most recently a French Colony, French is the most common language spoken outside of the native Malagasy which makes it a Mecca for French tourists. We must have run into at least 10 tour groups that day. My French is rusty, but I am able to speak enough to converse and understand most of what was said. Dr. Wright knew every single guide by name! She stopped to speak with each of them and they all made a point to introduce her to their tour groups as the founder of the park and the discoverer of the golden bamboo lemur. They were undeniably proud of her and their forest and cared deeply about the animals that inhabited it. One group had never heard of her, but after the guide explained who she was and how important she was to the park, they lined up to take their pictures with her.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most people survive on less than $2/day. That poverty was evident on the 10 hour drive we took from the capital city of Antanarivo (simply called Tana by the locals) to the Centre. However, Dr. Wright has done everything in her power to transform this area. Conservation is not just about research, it is also about the people.   The construction of Centre ValBio has brought jobs, education, and even electricity and clean water to the local town of Ranomafana. Logging has all but stopped in the area and though the slash and burn agriculture is apparent all around, more and more locals are finding employment not just at the Centre, but at local luxury hotels that are popping up in the area, bringing even more money into the local economy. Dr. Wright brought us to her Women’s Weaving Centre where the women make their own money by weaving the most beautiful scarves and bags out of cotton and a locally produced silk. In the center of Ranomafana, you can buy perfectly crafted baskets, woven placemats, and carvings made from sustainable wood.

Women Weaver signWeaver

While it may have been the lemurs that brought her here, Dr. Wright has improved life for all of the local inhabitants – human, animal, and plant. She is an inspiration. Earlier this year, she became the first woman ever to win the Indianapolis Prize for Conservation. She jokes that it is fitting that someone who studies matriarchal primates be the first woman to win that prize, but the truth is she deserves it either way! Dr. Wright’s work is the epitome of a well-rounded conservation program and Oakland Zoo is proud and honored to be a part of it.

Big News For Big Birds

by | June 2nd, 2014
Condor in Flight

Condor in Flight

Condors are certainly big news at Oakland Zoo right now with the recent arrival of the first two birds at the newly-opened Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center. As you may know, condors are the highly endangered cousins of the vultures that you see in the skies all over California. And like vultures, condors play a vital role in the ecosystem by feeding on the carcasses of dead animals. When these animals are shot by hunters or ranchers, the lead pellets in turn are ingested by the condors. It takes only a tiny fragment of lead to make a condor very ill. These lead-poisoned birds need medical care in order to survive, which is where the zoo comes in. For the past three years we’ve been working with the Ventana Wildlife Society near Big Sur, California, an organization that has been leading conservation efforts to save the California condor for decades. When a sick bird is spotted in the mountains around Big Sur, it’s carefully captured by Ventana’s condor vets and conservationists and brought to our facility. Once here, it’s treated by specially-trained Oakland Zoo veterinarians who provide treatment for the condor until it is healthy enough to be released back into the wild. And you’ll be happy to know that one of the aforementioned birds has already gotten a clean bill of health and has been returned to her home!
But there’s more to our condor program than medical procedures. In April, a small group of young zoo volunteers had the opportunity of attending a special camp about condors. Held at the research facility within the Ventana Wilderness Area, Condor Camp is a 4-day program that lets people observe and participate in the conservation work being done by the Ventana Wildlife Society. This was the first time kids from the zoo (both Teen Wild Guides and Teen Assistants) had the chance to participate in this exciting program. Over the four days they went on a night walk, spotted condors that were feeding on dead seals and sea lions at the Pacific Ocean, and visited the feeding slope and re-release cages used by the staff. They also got to check out the Condor Cam, the remotely-controlled video camera that allows visual monitoring of the birds from the research center. But most exciting, the kids got to use the radio antennas and other equipment to locate the condors, some of whom regularly migrate between Ventana and their other stronghold at Pinnacles National Monument.

Resting During treatment

Resting During treatment

And then there’s Condor Class. An educational program for middle and high school students, this half-day class held at Oakland Zoo is an on-site version of the new interactive Field Biology Workshops. The 20-30 students (from science classes at a variety of local schools) get the chance to use the high-tech tools of biologists, such as telemetry equipment and GPS units to track the birds, which all have ID tags and their own individual radio frequencies. The students practice with this equipment by finding hidden stuffed animals, study condor data gathered in the field by biologists and make scientific recommendations for the birds’ welfare based on that data.
So as you can see, there’s a lot of condor activity going on at Oakland Zoo these days. Although the birds here aren’t available for public viewing, you can be sure they’re receiving the medical care they need to get them back out in the wild as soon as possible, thus helping to ensure their continued success in returning from the brink of extinction!

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