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
I have been an Oakland Zoo Docent for 1 ½ years, have a zoo membership, and am proud to support the Zoo and Measure A1. As a volunteer, I have witnessed the enjoyment of all zoo visitors as well the educational programs it provides. To be clear, Measure A1 is a not about expanding the zoo. It is a $1 per month parcel tax that will allow the zoo to continue to maintain its superior animal care and extend educational programs throughout Alameda County. This measure should not be confused with the project that was previously approved in 2011 by Oakland Parks & Recreation, Planning Commission and the Oakland City Council which included construction of a new, state-of-the-art veterinary hospital which is near completion. These approval agencies and the Alameda County Superior Court judge all determined the zoo had met the requirements to proceed with a project that will benefit hundreds of thousands of zoo visitors. The Zoo is proud that Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the Humane Society of the United States, as well as local education and animal rights advocates support A1. Other supporters are: 1) the East Bay Regional Park District, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, Sheila Jordan, and School Superintendents in every city of the County due to the critically needed environmental education it provides children, and 2) animal care organizations, including the Ventana Wildlife Society, the Felidae Conservation Fund/Bay Area Puma Project, and leading Veterinarians due to A1’s goal to provide humane animal care. These supporters understand the intention behind A1 and how the funds will be used. Please join me and others in support of one of Oakland’s leading cultural, educational, and animal care organizations by voting Yes on Measure A1.
— Ann Thomas, Oakland Zoo Docent
I have been working in the animal care field for over 30 years. One thing I have learned is that when political differences arise, it’s the animals that pay the price. Measure A1 would ensure that the animals at Oakland Zoo continue to get high quality animal care. It will also allow the zoo to offer educational zoo trips that schools cannot provide. In a time when city and school budgets are cut, A1 is an important way the zoo can meet the needs of both animals and children.
Opponents of A1 say that they care about the animals, but voting against A1 would greatly reduce the zoo’s ability to provide things like heating systems, new fences, maintenance for animal enclosures and most importantly, maintain the food budget so we can continue to provide quality animal food. The opponents demean what the zoo is doing for animals by saying we use the “cute animals” for other means. I really don’t understand how they can be so selfish and use dishonest tactics and still stay they care about animals. I also don’t understand why reporters failed to report all the facts, and miss that the true intent of A1 is better animal care. The animals’ needs are real, and that’s the truth. I ask everyone to read the measure, see the truth and please vote yes on measure A1.
Michelle Jeffries, Zoological manager, Oakland Zoo
The opponents of measure A1 want you to believe that the Oakland Zoo is using “cute” animals for “other purposes” than what the measure clearly states. This is demeaning to the zoo and to the animals. I have been in the animal care field for over 30 years and I have seen that when conflict arises and issues concerning animal care are not reported honestly, it is the animals that really pay the price. The animals’ needs are real, and this measure is the best thing that could happen for them. The measure will also support education and greatly increase the number of schoolchildren who can attend our zoo programs and learn more about the animals they see at the zoo. Measure A1 will also keep the admission cost low—so important for many of our visitors.
As an animal care manager at the zoo, my focus is the animals and providing the best care possible. The three sections I manage would benefit greatly if measure A1 succeeds. Our young camels have grown so much they need taller and sturdier fencing; the tiger night house needs expanding, a new heating system and a hot water heater; and the beautiful bird aviaries are very much in need of underground barriers for rodent control. We also desperately need a “tamer” — a structure that can safely hold giraffe during medical procedures. In a time of budget cuts and increasing costs however, it becomes more difficult to meet our animals’ needs. The animals need A1 to pass, and that is the truth. I ask you to please read measure A1 to see the truth, and vote YES!
Michelle Jeffries, Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo
My family, friends and colleagues can attest to my green way of life and my and concern for the well-being of animals. For these reasons, I feel fortunate that I work as the Conservation Director at the Oakland Zoo. I chose this organization because the Zoo’s heart is like mine, wild and green, with conservation at the center of our mission.
We have award winning green initiatives, including a new, LEED certified vet center. We are deeply involved in the protection of vulnerable wildlife, including the Western Pond Turtle and the California condor locally. We keep the Arroyo Viejo Creek clean and native, restoring it with volunteers from the local community, and we inspire thousands of children to connect to and take action for wildlife and nature.
Backed by many environmental organizations, Measure A1 protects local wildlife and provides sanctuary for rescued and endangered species. A1 is for all of us in Alameda County who have a true wild and green heart.
Educator, Conservationist and Oakland home owner