Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ Category

Teen Wild Guides Take on Yellowstone!

by | September 16th, 2016

The Teen Wild Guide (TWG) Program at the Oakland Zoo is a fantastic program for teens who are interested in animals, volunteering and having fun! One of the many perks of being a TWG is the summer trip! Every year we go on an international conservation trip with the exception of this summer 2016 we decided to stay domestic and visit the beautiful Yellowstone National Park.

Myself, one other chaperone and 13 zoo teens headed off to Bozeman, Montana on July 9, 2016 for a 9 day conservation camping trip. We went through an incredible program called Ecology Project International (EPI), which provides educational trips to youth based on wildlife research and conservation.

Hiking Hellroaring

Hiking Hellroaring

Prep for this trip included monthly meetings, journaling and a hike. During one of our meetings the high school volunteers were broken into groups for a research project. They were given a topic to learn more about and develop a presentation for the rest of our group. These awe-inspiring short presentations ranged from amphibians affect in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) to invasive and non-invasive fish species throughout the water ways. The awareness that each student showed made it apparent that they were in fact the perfect group to go to Yellowstone and participate in data collection for the National Park Service’s lead Bison Biologists research that investigates the grazing effect of Bison in the GYE. How did we do that you ask?! With camp food, sleeping bags, elk carcasses, rain coats, binoculars and more!

Geysers and geothermals in Norris!

Geysers and geothermals in Norris!

We experienced some pretty torrential rain for the first few days. Did that stop us? No way! Rain gear on and ready for adventure, the next 5 days were filled with geothermals, bison research and pulling invasive plant species.

Looking at a native carnivorous plant species

Looking at a native carnivorous plant species

We were very lucky to learn from and work alongside, Jeremiah, Yellowstone’s very own Lead Bison Researcher and Biologist. We counted grass, performed fecal transects and had a lab day.

It was a great privilege to be a part of such important conservation research! Believe it or not, the favorite part of bison research for the teens ended up being the day centered around counting and weighing poop! I was very proud of them!

Fecal transects in Lamar Valley

Fecal transects in Lamar Valley








Interested in doing wolf observations in Yellowstone? Why, all you have to do is wake up at 4:30am (preferably earlier) and find the legendary, Rick McIntyre! He has been observing Yellowstone wolves every morning for over 30 years. He is as much a story teller as he is a wolf biologist. It was so much fun learning about the ups and downs of Yellowstone wolf packs, we even spotted a few of the elusive animals near a bison herd in the distance and heard them howl!

Bison Burger

Bison Burger

Our last couple days were filled with individual species presentations, white water rafting and bison burgers!

We stayed in cabins that night and FINALLY got to take showers. Eight days of no running water was our (or maybe just my) biggest feat of the whole trip. Our three fantastic instructors led activities that evening about reflection and appreciation of our time there and each other. Hearing all the kids talk about how this trip has changed them, how excited they were about new friendships, and seeing the tears from not wanting to leave was a personal highlight for me. That’s what these trips are about.

We love Yellowstone!

We love Yellowstone!

Docent Training: Cultivating the Face of the Zoo

by | December 29th, 2015

docent with skeletal footBack in the 1980s when I was trying to get my first Zoo job, I dreamed up a clever, surefire plan: I was going to offer to work for the Zoo for FREE! I was sure I’d blow them away with my unheard-of generosity and be hired on the spot. Guess what? I didn’t realize that an organization like a zoo has hundreds of volunteers, and in fact couldn’t exist without them. Here at Oakland Zoo these volunteers work in a wide variety of capacities. One of the larger of these groups are the docents. These are the folks you see roaming the zoo, answering questions and giving directions. But their most important function is to teach the public about animals and conservation. Whether they’re leading a tour, staffing an interpretive station, or roaming about at large, the docents have a lot of ground to cover. And that goes double when it comes to the sheer amount of information they need to keep in their heads. Indeed, learning about each of the 145 animal species here at Oakland Zoo takes some doing.
This is where the Docent Training Class comes in. This annual fourteen week course wouldn’t be docents at tablepossible without a team of dedicated teachers and guest speakers. The majority of these speakers are Oakland Zoo animal keepers, whose years of experience and passion for their work make them ideal for the job. Despite their busy schedules, they’re always happy to take time out from their day to address the members of the docent class. They consider this time an investment, since docents make their jobs easier by working with the visiting public, ensuring understanding and respect for wildlife and the natural world.
The core curriculum of the class is taught by docents and instructors from the Zoo’s Education Department, and provides a foundation with basics such as physiology, reproduction, adaptations and taxonomy. The zookeepers serve to augment this curriculum. They typically do a Powerpoint presentation that deals with the specific animals under their care: how old they are and where they’re from; how many males and females in each exhibit, in addition to information about family trees, male-female pairings, and group behavioral dynamics. This biographical information “tells their story” and helps these prospective docents make a more personal connection with our animals, and by extension, helps the public do the same.
docents with feed bucketThese guest speakers also bring a wealth of outside experience to their jobs here at the Zoo, and their stories are a perennial source of inspiration for all our docents. They include people like Zoological Manager Margaret Rousser, a nine year Oakland Zoo veteran who traveled to Madagascar to work with lemurs, assisting local veterinarians in the field. Adam Fink, one of our resident reptile and amphibian keepers, worked as an environmental monitor with endangered toads in Arizona and in the San Diego area. Education Specialist Carol Wiegel works as a wildlife biologist for an environmental consulting company. She also volunteered in Northern Mexico where she studied desert tortoises. Bird keeper Leslie Storer has volunteered at animal re-hab centers as well as the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. And Colleen Kinzley, our Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, spent eight summers in East Africa, docent at QFC kioskworking with the Mushara Elephant Project of Namibia.
These dedicated individuals are just a small part of the team here at Oakland Zoo. If you or anyone you know has a passion for animals and enjoys working with the public, you might want to consider joining that team by volunteering as a docent at Oakland Zoo. In doing so, you’ll become part of a longstanding tradition of wildlife education and conservation. For more information on our docent training, please contact: Lisa O’Dwyer at or Chantal Burnett at

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos 2015: Join us in San Francisco!

by | September 24th, 2015
Join Oakland Zoo and March For Elephants at the global march on October 3rd in San Francisco!

Join Oakland Zoo and March For Elephants at the global march on October 3rd in San Francisco!

Do you want to fight for the survival of elephants and rhinos? Do you want to say no to extinction? Do you want to march and rally? Please join the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER), and be a warrior against the illegal wildlife trafficking trade! On Saturday, October 2nd, 3rd, and 4th the world is coming together to take a stand against the ivory and rhino horn trade in over one-hundred and twenty cities across the globe, including Africa, South America, Asia, and Australia!

Did you know that one elephant in Africa dies every fifteen minutes? And one rhino dies every nine hours? That’s 96 elephants and 2-3 rhinos a

Gina Kinzley, Co-Elephant Manager at Oakland Zoo, handing out "96" pins at World Elephant Day at the zoo.

Gina Kinzley, Co-Elephant Manager at Oakland Zoo, handing out “96” pins at World Elephant Day at the zoo.

day. Considering the estimates for elephants are below 400,000 and rhinos below 18,000 in Africa, they don’t have much time left unless we come together in a global effort and ask for change. To read more about the crisis visit my blog here: To watch a videos of the previous SF marches look here:


March For Elephants, SF based non-profit, lobbying for SB 716 and AB 96. You may have seen some of these fierce warriors tabling at the zoo!

March For Elephants, SF based non-profit, lobbying for SB 716 and AB 96. You may have seen some of these fierce warriors tabling at the zoo!

I have had the pleasure to be a part of March For Elephants, a San Francisco based grassroots organization, consisting of some of the most passionate and fierce advocates I have met, and who care deeply for the survival of elephants. This group of warriors has been working since May of 2013 to raise awareness of the crisis and organize and advertise the upcoming march in San Francisco. This year they became an official 501c3 non-profit organization run solely by volunteers. The march was originally inspired in 2013 by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a non-profit dedicated to around the clock care of baby orphan elephants, and who have seen the dramatic increase of poaching in Africa, due to the massive increase in orphans they are rescuing. DSWT supported about fifteen other cities who were marching across the globe, and so many other cities were inspired by their work and passion, over forty cities ended up marching in 2013, San Francisco one of them! That momentum has not died and only continues to grow year after year as elephants and rhinos are still in peril. Over one-hundred and twenty cities, and thousands of advocates are working fiercely on behalf of our beloved elephants and rhinos, and we anticipate the San Francisco turnout to be even bigger and better than last year! Last year we had dozens of NGO supporters, including some of Oakland Zoo’s conservation partners, such as Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Post-march, they have a great line-up of speakers including Ed Stewart, co-founder of Performing Animal Welfare Society, and special youth advocates!

Here’s what to do if you’re interested in attending the San Francisco march:

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos San Francisco 2014. Over 1500 in attendance. Photo courtesy of March For Elephants.

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos San Francisco 2014. Over 1500 in attendance. Photo courtesy of March For Elephants.

Please join Oakland Zoo in support of the Global March for Elephants and

Lobbying and testifying at the Capitol for SB 716 and AB 96. Pictured: PAWS, Oakland Zoo, and HSUS staff.

Lobbying and testifying at the Capitol for SB 716 and AB 96. Pictured: PAWS, Oakland Zoo, and HSUS staff.

Rhinos. Say no to elephants turning into trinkets, jewelry, and status symbols. Say no to rhino horn being used as medicine or a hangover cure. Help us tell China to shut down their carving factories! Help us tell Vietnam that rhino horn has no proven medicinal or hangover cures! Also, don’t forget to call Governor Jerry Brown’s office ( to let him know you support AB 96 a bill that will shut down ivory sales, and SB 716 a bill to prohibit the use of the bullhook,  in California. Governor Brown has until October 11th to either sign or veto. Oakland Zoo has played an active role in both of these bills. Who knows? Maybe we will be celebrating together on march day. See you there!

Making it Green: Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs

by | July 17th, 2015

You might not know this but Oakland Zoo deals with a lot more than just animals. Surrounding the Zoo, like a giant green oasis, lies the expansive Knowland Park. And running through the park you’ll find crew with bagsthe meandering Arroyo Viejo Creek, making its way from the East Bay hills to San Leandro Bay. But this creek isn’t some man-made exhibit with fake foliage. It’s a naturally occurring bio zone, complete with its own plant life, animal life and geological features. In other words, it’s home to a lot of living things. And like far too many natural ecosystems, Arroyo Viejo Creek faces ongoing threats from the human world. So it needs a little help. That’s where Oakland Zoo comes in.

For several years now the Zoo has facilitated restoration work on the creek in an effort to return it to its natural, healthy state. This work involves cleaning up accumulated trash, removing invasive plants (such as French Broom, thistle, poison hemlock and English ivy) and planting weed pullersnative species, such as coastal live oak. Most of this work is done by a group known as the Creek Crew, a team of up to fifty zoo-led volunteers that get together one Saturday each month. Armed with shovels, rakes and work gloves, the Creek Crew involves people of all ages, from kids to seniors. And they have a great time too. Overseeing these efforts is Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs Manager, Olivia Lott.

A recent arrival at the Zoo, Olivia is also organizing an ambitious plan to create a series of themed demonstration gardens to use in our Education Creek and Garden programs. These gardens will illustrate a variety of biomes and will be used to educate the public about the role of various plant species. Utilizing our existing planter space in the Education Center courtyard, Olivia hopes to create eight different plots, including an edible garden, a medicinal garden, a xeriscaped garden for sun loving plants, a habitat and shelter garden to attract local wildlife, one for shade plants (filled with ferns native to our northern California woodlands) and other gardens for aquatic plants, carnivorous plants and for attracting butterflies and other pollinators. There’s even a group on grassgarden consisting of plants that grow without the need for soil that will be grown vertically along one wall of our Education facility!

Olivia plans to involve the public in creating the space for these gardens. Projects like building planter boxes, vertical garden frames and small fences, plus soil preparation and even some planting can all be fun educational projects for the dedicated groups and individuals who volunteer their time here at the Zoo each month. Education Department staff will maintain the gardens once they are established.

Another conservation project Olivia is helping to launch involves sharing a bit of beautiful Knowland Park with the rest of the East Bay. Starting this September, several groups including Creek and Garden classes, Creek Crew volunteers and Zoo staff will begin collecting acorns that have fallen from the Coast purple and chipsLive Oak trees living in the upper park. The acorns will be brought down to the Education Center to be prepped and planted in containers where they will grow for the next 24 months or so. Once the acorns have become small oak saplings, they will be given to East Bay residents who are interested in helping to re-populate their neighborhoods and yards with these magnificent native trees that once gave Oakland its name. Instructions for caring for the saplings as well as small markers that tell about the trees and where they came from will be provided with each tree. This project grew out of the Zoo’s desire to not only replace the few oak trees that will be removed during CA Trail construction, but to also “spread some of the wealth” of Knowland Park throughout East Bay neighborhoods.


If you’re interested in joining the Creek Crew or know someone who is, contact Oakland Zoo at or 510-632-9525 x 233 and get involved with the next work day at Arroyo Viejo Creek. If you’re interested in helping with the gardens, contact Chantal at Either way, you’ll have a great time working with nature and meeting new friends. And it’s a good feeling knowing that you too can make a difference!


Oakland Zoo Veterinarian in Africa – Part 5

by | February 27th, 2015

Wednesday Feb 25

Communication challenges…


This Wednesday morning we accompany a young American couple on their lion tracking adventure. Dr. Siefert is not available for this trek, so while Dr. Gottfried and I narrate and answer questions, James looks for the lions. Obviously we have learned much about the lions and the park ecology – maybe we have a future in eco-tourism?Cub and yawn


We return to the sight of the water buffalo kill, where we have again picked up Sharon’s signal. The buffalo carcass is reduced to mere bones with tiny bits of flesh, and no fewer than 15 white-backed vultures are scavenging the remains…there is no waste here in the park. Sharon and the cubs have moved up the hill and are out of sight in the thick tangle of thorns and low brush. It has become too treacherous for navigation by 4-wheel drive and we must turn back.Vultures


Though the morning has yielded no samples for our study, we have successfully located several more lions. More importantly, we have conveyed a wealth of information to some very receptive park tourists. Hopefully this morning has had an impact on them – now they can not only say they have seen lions, but they understand a little more about complex conservation issues.


This afternoon’s communication challenge seems more daunting. We return to the community visited a few days ago, where we paid part compensation for a calf killed by a leopard. Today, Dr. Siefert will present his ideas to move the community forward, and solicit a letter of support from them to apply for grant funding for these improvement projects.


The community meeting takes place on a few rickety wooden benches placed on the dusty ground underneath a tree. The chairman of the community, Eliphaz, and 10 other high-ranking community members are present. Several other men wander in and out, standing quietly behind the benches as Dr. Seifert talks. He attempts to establish himself as “not the police, not the UWA,” but someone who has the interests of wildlife and the community in mind. He describes how his own family in Germany re-established their financial stability following the “misery” of WWII using a combination of agriculture, animal products, and forest eco-tourism, including a pub and restaurant. His point is that this community can also be more successful financially by utilizing similar ideas.


The most pressing need is for construction of proper corrals for the livestock – made 9 meters tall, with wire fence material and weather-resistant poles, surrounded by a second bio-fencing barrier made of the invasive thorny bushes so prevalent throughout the park. Dr. Siefert introduces the concept of “zero grazing” by which livestock are fed on smaller fenced pastures with grasses cultivated by the community, leaving the park grasses available for wild prey species. Not wanting to leave anyone out, he proposes creating sport-fishing eco-tours for the fishermen in the community, and describes accommodations necessary for that industry.


Finally, one man breaks his silence, and Eliphaz translates for us. The community members would like to comment and are becoming impatient! I have the impression that Dr. Siefert’s ideas are a bit overwhelming. They agree that proper livestock pens are essential, but balk at the idea of shared community pens. They argue that people need to be able to check their livestock throughout the day while at home, there is too much potential for disease transmission, and someone would have to be paid to maintain the outside perimeter wire and bio-fence. Dr. Siefert nods, as if understanding, but reminds the group that community pens are more reasonable given UCP’s limited funds.Tail


After a lively discussion, the community decides that they will only agree to support construction of a separate pen for each family, even if that means waiting indefinitely until the funding is available. Dr. Siefert reluctantly consents, requesting cost estimates to be available tomorrow when we return with a letter of support for them to sign. We close the meeting with my statement as a representative of Oakland Zoo, and shake hands again. A woman who has been silent throughout the meeting speaks up, saying that she is happy for the help, unless we are the ones who brought the leopard to the village.


We drive away with mixed emotions. Dr. Siefert’s ideas have been received and discussed honestly, yet in the end, there is always suspicion. He is baffled by the accusation that he (or we!) moves leopards around the park. I try to understand the resistance to change and improvements in the community, and wonder how best to resolve this communication challenge…

Oakland Zoo Veterinarian in Africa – Part 4

by | February 24th, 2015


Monday / Tuesday Feb 23 /24

Research routine…


Our final sample processing experiment over the weekend is successful (no more melting plastic!) and we have now settled into a daily schedule. Early in the morning we track lions, then return to the lab for sample processing, recording data and writing. Late in the afternoon, we are again in the field to track the felines. These are long, satisfying days – and hardly what can be considered routine!Cub on back


On Monday morning, we spend several hours tracking Lena’s group, which consists of 9 adolescents, Lena (the lioness), and her 3 very young cubs. We are privileged to observe lion group dynamics – play, head butting, rubbing, marking, running, and vocalizing! One of the mature males, Rudi, appears interested in the group, following and occasionally vocalizing to them, but keeping his distance.Cub posing


Suddenly, as we follow Rudi near a herd of water buffalo, we hear a human scream in the distance. James exclaims, “Lena’s killing someone!” and Dr. Siefert rushes our vehicle toward the scream, with James shouting directions. Luckily, when we arrive on the road, at the origin of the scream, three men are standing by their motorcycles, very shaken but unhurt. Apparently, Lena chased them when they drove around the corner – she was hiding in a thicket with her cubs, trying to find food for them. We advise the men not to attempt to pass Lena again and contact the UWA to inform them of the incident in hopes they will close the road to motorcycles until Lena moves away.


Feeling a bit more somber at the reminder of the ever-present potential for lion-human conflict, we continue to watch Rudi and the group of lions until we receive our “black gold” fecal reward! With the morning’s samples safe inside plastic bags, we drive back toward the lab. We have yet to find the other two big males, Papa and Omukama, so Dr. Siefert continues to track. Just as we re-enter the park, we hear a steady beep – Papa is nearby. Buried deep in the thickets and thorns, he is resting, but looks thin, as if he has not made a kill in several days. We drive away and are again rewarded for our tracking diligence – in the fork of a tree sits a solitary, shy leopard!


Tuesday dawns with similar goals: to find some lions, obtain some fecal samples, and process them. We first find Papa near the same spot as yesterday afternoon. No fecal sample nearby, but as we drive out of the park, we find a lion deposit on the side of the road…our luck continues! James pulls out the antenna for tracking and soon we have Sharon’s signal. She has moved to a far corner of the park, in very difficult, hilly, thorny terrain. James feels that this behavior is highly unusual. As her signal becomes stronger, her reasoning becomes clear. The trees ahead of us are full of vultures, obviously hoping for some scraps from a lion’s dinner.


Sharon on killWe drive cautiously, windows shut completely, as an eviscerated water buffalo comes into view. Sharon the lioness is hiding in a large thicket just behind the kill, staring at us warily. Her cubs are several hundred yards away, stomachs bulging, relaxing in the warm sun. Unfortunately, it seems that we are too early in the digestive process to obtain samples, so we make a plan to return later in the evening.


It has cooled off significantly this evening, and I must pull out my lucky long-sleeved purple field shirt. James tests our navigation skills as we drive towards Sharon’s group. Using an old tree and a mountain peak, we are able to accurately choose the turn off the road, and follow our path from the morning through the savannah, with a bit of help from James. As the sun begins to set, several of the cubs emerge from their afternoon naps and present us with two more samples. We find Sharon at the kill site, consuming her evening meal, expertly butchering the remaining meat with her razor sharp teeth. My lucky shirt seems to be working…or it’s just another routine day of research!