Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ Category

From Oakland to Africa – Diary of a ZooKeeper

by | January 15th, 2015

A common approach to see in many modern movies is the protagonist country-hopping. It’s so exciting, so romantic. One moment our hero is in Japan, following a corrupt business man about to complete a huge transaction. The next, she is in the Colombian jungle looking for a rare artifact. A quick caption at the bottom is our only hint that we have now shifted location thousands of miles. As I boarded my first of three flights to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, it was this globe-trotting theme that was surging through me.

My first flight from San Francisco to Toronto was delayed by over four hours, due to*two* planes having mechanical issues and each having to be switched out. I had a 5.5 hour layover in Canada, so it wasn’t that big of a deal- I spent the time in SFO instead of YZZ. Additional boarding delays did make me have to run to my next flight to Addis Ababa, but there was a problem with most passengers’ tickets and so we were delayed boarding as they went through each ticket, one-by-one. Then the plane had to be de-iced. Our 12.5 hour flight was delayed by 2 hours and it left me 10 minutes to get from one gate to the second in a non-Western airport. Three African business men and I were lead very quickly through the crowded airport. When we reached the gate, could see our smaller plane still waiting…and were told the flight was closed. The businessmen exploded with anger, the airline staff snidely told us they had called our names, but we hadn’t answered. While I wasn’t feeling sleepy at this point, my body was so exhausted and the thought of spending 24 hours in the crowded airport until the next flight to Kinshasa made me want to push past the attendants and run onto the plane in a hysterical manner. If this were a movie, surely the villain would have fed my love interest to a pit of crocodiles by this point, tired of waiting for me to show-up.

Hotel Room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

View from my hotel room in Addis Ababa. The city is developing quickly, so huge buildings are going up right next to slums like this one.

After another two hours standing in a customer service line (with the dozens of people who had also missed Ethiopian Airlines’ flights), one of the businessmen was next in line to be helped. He told us to give him our passports and tickets, then went up to the counter. A young seminary student traveling to Kinshasa to visit her sister had also had a delayed flight to Addis Ababa, so she got in on our group approach as well. Thirty more minutes passed. Finally, he returned with a voucher for a hotel room, meals, transport and one free 3-minute phone call. Everyone in our groupseemed much calmer at this point, but I was more than that. I was completely elated. I had forgotten I had any other purpose in life other than to be alone in a quiet room where I could sleep in a bed, so I was feeling quite accomplished.

 

My Christmas meal in Ethiopia. Orange liquid is an Ethiopian honey wine that is very sweet and tasty.

Following a 3 minute phone call to Kinshasa which consisted of, “Stuck in Addis Ababa, be there tomorrow, sorry, bye!” I slept for several hours and then the missionary student, Miriana, and I decided to go out on the town. We asked the front desk for recommendations and they sent a woman with us to a restaurant with live performers. Ethiopia is a very old Christian country and they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, which just happened to be that day! Everyone was out in beautiful garb, the restaurant was packed and full of life.

Ethiopian dancing consists of a lot of short, small movements. A series of different dance groups came out, each with a different style and some with singers. Our hostess helped us to order food and explained the history of different dances and songs. There was so much color and beauty, I really fell in love with Ethiopia that night.

After a restless sleep (my body had no idea what time it was or what it was supposed to be doing), I packed up the few things from my carry-on (luggage was unaccounted for at this point) and went to breakfast. I had begun to suspect the reason they hadn’t  let us on the flight the day before was because there were too many people booked for it. Well over 20 people were staying at our hotel, all of them missed connecting Ethiopian Airlines flights due to the fault of the company. If this happened daily, they were bound to get backed up. Also, now knowing it had been a national holiday explained why it was just so crowded in Addis Ababa’s airport.

This realization made me very nervous that morning, as all of us delayed flyers needed to get to the airport, preferably long before boarding time so we were assured a seat. At breakfast, people were talking and in no hurry. But I’m an American: I’m antsy, nervous and overzealous about being on time. I decided I was just going to go sit on the van, a couple of the businessmen I had befriended the day before had the same idea. My fears were realized when the van left several flyers behind, assuring them that another van would be along soon. Our van raced along, swerving precariously between other vehicles (including oncoming traffic). I was in the back along with two Congolese men who worked for a wildlife conservation organization in Kinshasa. We had to move our seat forward to fit luggage behind us, but the seat was not secure on the track now. When we stopped quickly, our seat would squish us forward. When the driver gunned it to cut someone off, we should quickly slam backwards. One of the men proclaimed, “Our seat is not serious. We will soon be in the street.”

We made our flight and the plane was huge, not the typical two-and-two-seat rows for most flights between African countries. This plane was the type used to fly across continents and oceans, so I again suspected they had overbooked yesterday’s flight and were trying to get back on track today.

Welcome banner and sign made for me by Pasha, the head groundskeeper. Also, one of the lucky dogs taken in by the sanctuary.

The four-hour flight was uneventful. When leaving the plane and getting on the tarmac, I was greeted by a man with a sign, “TWOROSKI, NATASHA-MARIE BONOBOS,” who had been hired by the sanctuary to get me. He took my baggage-claim tickets and I went through customs. After a nightmare of trying to locate my bags, I was on my way!

French is the main language of DRC and I had attempted to listen to “Learn French in Your Car” CDs before I left. This has turned out to have been well worth the effort and I regret not investing more time into it. My driver drove me through traffic for an hour through very crowded Kinshasa to get to a point where I would be passed along to a driver who worked directly for Lola ya Bonobo. It was not that far, but the traffic made it a nightmare. This is the fourth major African city I have seen (including Kigali, Kampala and Addis Ababa), but the poverty level is clearly the highest in Kinshasa. So many buildings that were probably once hotels or businesses are now rubble, with collapsed walls and no roof, homes to those who have none. The other big cities I have been to have varied in their approach to cleaning-up roads (Kigali was spotless), but Kinshasa is different than all of those. Trash upon trash builds up on the roads, with homeless children, feral dogs and general poverty everywhere.

At this point, the traveling and lack of any solid sleep was catching up to me. I didn’t have any water, I had a headache, I was almost in a fatal car accident approximately a dozen times. It was one of the moments where you start to think, “Why? Why did I want this so badly?” The driver and an escort from Lola ya Bonobo were in the car and speaking very fast French, mostly like gossiping from the few words I caught. Then the escort leaned forward and said, “Madame Natasha, Welcome to Lola!”

Instant change of emotions. I cannot properly describe how quickly the habitat changed from traditional rural African roads to entering a jungle oasis. Lola ya Bonobo truly lives up to its name, http://www.lolayabonobo.org/ “Paradise of the Bonobos.” The center of the sanctuary, which hosts the offices and living quarters, is built on a large, green hill that is beautifully maintained by the staff. A large archway made of vines and decorated with flowers had been constructed for my arrival, it included a welcome sign in English (which I was later to learn required some effort by Pasha, the head groundskeeper).

My home during my stay at Lola ya Bonobo.

I was brought to my room, which was considerably nicer than any place I’ve stayed at in Africa, and given a quick lunch. The rooms are spacious, well-decorated and each even has a wall air-conditioning unit for when there is electricity (although mine has yet to work).

Soon, I was greeted by the manager of the sanctuary, Fanny. Fanny’s mom is Claudine Andre, the brave woman who started the sanctuary in 1994 in the midst of a violent civil war. Like her mother, Fanny is kind, beautiful and gracious. As I spoke with Fanny, every frustration and annoyance I had felt left me. It was finally time for me to meet the bonobos.

Check back here tomorrow for another journal entry on my adventures in Africa!

-Natasha

 

 

 

 

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.

Wild Giraffes Need You!

by | October 9th, 2014

In the past 10 years, 4 out of 5 Reticulated giraffes have vanished.   Most of us can’t even begin to fathom 4 of our 5 closest friends disappearing from our lives, but for the last remaining Reticulated giraffe this is a daily reality. Since 1999, almost 50% of wild giraffes have disappeared from this planet. If something isn’t done now and current trends continue, within the next 10 years giraffe populations will be completely extinct in the wild!

Amy with Tayo, getting ready for his acupuncture treatment here at the Zoo

Amy with Tayo, getting ready for his acupuncture treatment here at the Zoo

“I think the situation is quite serious. The first three years I was working in Kenya there was no rain at all. It just didn’t rain. People were starving and coped by eating anything they could find, including giraffe…and it dawned on me that we are actually witnessing a megafaunal extinction happening right now, not seen on this scale since the disappearance of the wooly mammoth at the end of the last ice age.” -As said by John Doherty of the Reticulated Giraffe Project, in the groundbreaking documentary film “The Last of the Longnecks

 

 

DSC01299So why is this happening to giraffe? The human population across Africa continues to grow, and the changing climate is forcing people to move into new areas, bringing disease and human wildlife conflict. In some areas of new development low hanging power lines are electrocuting giraffe and preventing them from traveling to different areas. Giraffe are poached for their hide, meat and tail hairs. Hides and tail hairs are used to make fly swatters, jewelry, and other tourist souvenirs. A lack of food security is a significant problem for many people across Africa. A large portion of Africa’s people are struggling day to day to feed and nourish their families. When people are starving, a giraffe presents a large amount of meat. Food program development is crucial for the survival of giraffe and other African species.

It appears EVERYONE is getting into the "Jeans for Giraffes" spirit! Donate your old denim to help conserve giraffes in the wild!

It appears EVERYONE is getting into the “Jeans for Giraffes” spirit! Donate your old denim to help conserve giraffes in the wild!

Even so, giraffes remain an iconic species as they have for thousands of years. They have been gifts to royalty have and inspired artists to memorialize them on cave walls and pyramids! They are represented in the books we read to our children and the first toys we give them as infants. Their beauty and breath taking grace draws tourists to Africa from all over the world. So how is it possible that most people have no idea that wild giraffes are in a crisis and need our help? Every school child learns the threat ivory poses to African elephants, that global warming is harming polar bears, and that hunting and habitat loss is devastating panda populations, but the loss of the majestic giraffe remains a largely silent and unheard. This needs to change and giraffe zookeepers, conservationists and researchers around the globe are working together to draw attention to this very serious issue. The one thing that everyone agrees the average person can do to help is to increase awareness of the problem. Only with awareness, education, and dissemination of the most current information does change come.

So what can you do? It’s always helpful to collect financial contributions for conservation projects that need funding study and save giraffes, but even if you don’t have to have a single dollar, you can help wild giraffes! You can help simply by going to www.giraffeconservation.org and downloading the Giraffe Conservation Guide booklet. Now armed with information you can talk to your friends and relatives about giraffes, make giraffes the focus of a school report, include giraffes in your art, like the Last of the Longnecks and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation on Facebook, participate in a Jeans for Giraffes drive, or visit the giraffes and their keepers at Oakland Zoo.

I live my life everyday surrounded by the giraffes at Oakland Zoo. I can’t even begin to imagine a world without them! One or 2 people can’t save giraffes but all of us together can make a difference. I ask you, if not you, then who? Take a stand and do something for giraffes today!

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos: Warriors needed!

by | September 12th, 2014

 

GMFER_bridge

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 4th the world is coming together on World Wildlife Day to take a stand against the ivory and rhino horn trade in over one-hundred 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 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. Check out this video by conservationist and march supporter Dex Kotze, for more information on the trade.

Dozens of NGO's in support of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos.

Dozens of NGO’s in support of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, including Oakland 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 February to raise awareness of the crisis and organize and advertise the upcoming march in San Francisco. 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 in Africa. DSWT has seen the dramatic increase of poaching in Africa, which has contributed to the massive increase in orphans that 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 last year, SF one of them! That momentum has not died and only continues to grow as elephants and rhinos are still in peril. Over one-hundred 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! This year we have dozens of NGO supporters, including some of Oakland Zoo’s conservation partners, such as Amboseli Trust for Elephants. We have a great line-up of speakers including Ed Stewart, co-founder of Performing Animal Welfare Society, San Francisco Supervisor, Scott Weiner, and Jennifer Fearing of Humane Society of the United States.

Route for the march!

Route for the march!

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

  • >Visit www.marchforelephants.org or www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org (for the global effort) to find out more information. On Saturday, October 4 at 10:30 am, the starting point is St. Mary’s Square in San Francisco. The march route will be about 2 miles long, and will end in the UN Plaza for the rally.
  • Sign up here. RSVP that you will attend, we’d love to know how many people are going!
  • Buy your special gear here. We want everyone looking snazzy. Proceeds go to the overall global effort. To donate to the SF march, click here.
  • Don’t forget to make your hand held sign to walk with during the march. For more ideas visit here. You can write whatever you want on the sign having to do with saving elephants and rhinos from extinction. For example: End the trade in ivory and horn! Save the elephants and rhinos! China, shut down your carving factories! We march to say no to extinction! Ivory belongs on elephants!

Please join Oakland Zoo in support of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Say no to elephants turning into trinkets, jewelry, and status symbols. Say no to rhino horn being used as an alternative 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! Ivory belongs on elephants, and only rhinos should have rights to their horns. Now let’s keep it that way!

Don't forget to make your sign for the march!

Don’t forget to make your sign for the march!

Can’t get enough of Oakland Zoo’s conservation efforts? Join us October 7th for the Discovering Primates Gala!

Featuring beautiful and exciting auction items including exclusive behind the scenes animal experiences, delectable bites, & bar. Our special guest is Rosamira Guillen, primate conservationist and Executive Director of Project Tamarin in Colombia.  This event benefits The Budongo Snare Removal Program in Uganda. This program helps chimps by removing snares set by poachers, offering goats as alternative sources of income for ex-hunters, and educating children and the community. It serves as a model to others! Oakland Zoo is the sole supporter.

 

World Elephant Day: Celebrate, Mourn, and March On!

by | August 7th, 2014

WED LOGOAugust 12th. A day to celebrate how truly magnificent these majestic beings are: variations of grey, brown, and red, wrinkly skin thick and thin but so sensitive they can feel a butterfly land on them, strong in mind and body, emotional and full of facial expressions, unique individuals, funny, explorative, intelligent to say the least, protective of family, stubborn . . . the list goes on. A day to thank them for taking care of this earth and playing a key role in their ecosystem for the survival of other species. A day to advocate on behalf of them and protect them from a gruesome slaughter due to human greed. A day to mourn for those that have succumb to the poachers poison arrow or AK-47, and to not forget the rangers that have given their lives to watch over them. A day to recognize them for what and who they are supposed to be, not what the entertainment industry or circuses force them to be. A day to be grateful for them, respect them, and admire them from afar.

M'Dundamella at Oakland Zoo. We cannot allow more elephants like Mountain Bull and Satao be victims of the poaching crisis.

M’Dundamella at Oakland Zoo. We cannot allow more elephants like Mountain Bull and Satao to be victims of the poaching crisis.

There has been so much going on with elephants there is barely time to keep up with it all. Here are some of the ups and downs on the conservation end of what is currently going on.

  • DEFEAT. May 1st, 2014: Hawaii Ivory Bill failed to meet its final legislative approval deadline, despite unanimously passing 4 House and Senate committees, both chambers and with strong support of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and Governor Abercrombie. There are plans to reintroduce the bill in the coming year.
  • SAD NEWS. May 16th, 2014: Mountain Bull, a “famous” bull known for his rambunctious behavior was found dead with his tusks cut off in Mt. Kenya National Park.
  • GOOD NEWS. May 24th, 2014: Oakland Zoo had its most successful Celebrating Elephants yet, and raised over 34,000 dollars for Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Check out www.elephanttrust.org for more info on the 40 year African Elephant research study in Kenya, one we’ve been supporting for 18 years.
  • SAD NEWS. May 30th, 2014: Satao, one of Kenya’s largest bull elephants and with tusks so long they reached the ground, was announced killed by poachers from poison arrows. Satao will be missed, read a beautiful article written by Mark Deeble right before his death, www.markdeeble.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/satao-a-legend-2/
  • GOOD NEWS: Oakland Zoo will now be supporting Big Life Foundation through our Quarters for Conservation program. Every time you come to visit the zoo you should recieve a token to vote on one of the three conservation organizations of the year. Twenty-five cents of your admission fee goes towards these three organizations.  Big Life Foundation was founded by photographer Nick Brandt and conservationist Richard Bonham in September 2010.  Big Life has now expanded to employ 315 rangers, with 31 outposts and 15 vehicles protecting 2 million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of E. Africa. Big Life was the first organization in East Africa with co-ordinated cross-border anti-poaching operations.
  • 96 Elephants campaign created by Wildlife Conservation Society has been HOT with ACTION:
    Some of the 1600 templates our visitors and supporters have made to send to Governor Brown.

    Some of the 1600 templates our visitors and supporters have made to send to Governor Brown.

    • 159 Partners of the campaign to date (http://96elephants.org/coalition).
    • VICTORY! June 4th2014: Thanks to WCS, 96 Elephants partners, and advocates, Antiques Roadshow on PBS will no longer feature carved ivory tusks on air, and has removed past appraisals from their series archive.
    • VICTORY! June 18th 2014: The Ivory Bill in New York state was passed prohibiting transactions of ivory, mammoth, and rhino horn except for a few exceptions for certain musical instruments, educational and scientific purposes, 100 year old antiques that are less than 20% ivory with documentation of proof of provenance. The bill has also increased fines and jail time for violators.
    • ACTION: Kid’s can save elephants campaign. Oakland Zoo has been collecting kids’ drawings of elephants and letters for Governor Jerry Brown to be mailed to his office on August 12th, World Elephant Day, asking for the ivory trade to be banned and strengthened in the state of California. States around the country will be doing the same. Our initial goal was to turn in 960 drawings, but we have surpassed 1600! Check out Oakland Zoo’s super cool video featuring some of these pictures:
    • ACTION: Petition to ban the ivory trade. Oakland Zoo has been tabling weekly to increase public awareness and asking our visitors to sign the petition. We have collected over 1400 signatures! If you haven’t been to visit please go online to www.96elephants.org and sign the petition now.
    • ACTION: Go grey for World Elephant Day. Come visit Oakland Zoo on Tuesday, August 12th, World Elephant Day, and wear grey for our giant friends. We will be tabling, and educating, as well as giving away grey awareness ribbons.
  • VICTORY! June 16th, 2014: New Jersey State Assembly passes legislation to ban ivory trade in the state.
  • VICTORY! July 24, 2014: New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Select Committee announced their support of a petition, rallied by an Auckland teacher Virginia Woolf, calling the Government to push for the resumption of a full ban on the sale of ivory.

10462529_852455838112885_6531909974391969404_nMarch for Elephants working fiercely: MFE is a San Francisco based grassroots organization dedicated to direct and peaceful action to promote global awareness about the elephant crisis, advocate for cessation of poaching, to shut down China’s ivory carving factories, and to lobby state, federal, and international representatives to revise legislation which currently permits the trade and importation of ivory.

  • Currently MFE is tabling all over the Bay Area at fairs, farmers markets, parades, and Oakland Zoo to raise awareness and promote the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Go online to www.marchforelephants.org for more info, join as a member, and sign the petition to help stop the illegal ivory trade in California.

    On October 4th, over 113 cities worldwide will be marching to fight extinction!

    On October 4th, over 113 cities worldwide will be marching to fight extinction!

  • ACTION: Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, also known as GMFER, will take place on Saturday October 4th, in over 113 cities world-wide. Oakland Zoo will be marching in San Francisco, along with many other dedicated organizations and activists. For more information on the GMFER and to purchase your gear visit, www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org.

This about sums up what Oakland Zoo has been working on and supporting to fight for the survival of elephants in Africa. Remember that 96 elephants a day are being killed for their ivory, that’s about one every fifteen minutes. Please join us to help stop elephants from disappearing. Come visit on Tuesday, August 12th for World Elephant Day (www.worldelephantday.org) and get your awareness ribbon at the elephant habitat. Oh, and we’ll see you in San Francisco at the march. Onward, elephant warriors!

96_Elephants_Facebook_Promo_2

 

Commissary at Oakland Zoo – the one for the animals, I mean…

by | June 26th, 2014

DSC_0026The daytime diet prep usually takes place in the morning so we have plenty of time pay attention to their details. It consists of the produce diets, meat diets and bird diets. The produce diets are a personal favorite because of how wonderfully colorful they look once done. Some are simple-consisting of only a few ingredients like grapes, apples and lettuce while others are complicated, requiring 9 different types of fruits and vegetables or more. For some of our smaller animals like the coatimundis and macaws individual pieces of their produce must be weighed making for a rather time consuming diet. The Vervet monkeys have a complicated social hierarchy. For this reason we must be careful to make all the pieces of food the same size so no monkey gets shorted which could create a conflict within the group. The heaviest diet by far that we prepare are the elephant buckets. We make we chop and fill to the brim four six gallon buckets with different fruits or vegetables. These can weigh up to 40 lbs and the pieces need to be about golf ball sized. The reason these pieces need to be small is so our elephants are prompted to exhibit natural foraging behaviors like they would in the wild. This is especially achievable if small bits of food are scattered throughout the exhibit or in their enrichment. We use this idea of foraging enrichment with almost all our other animals too.

A giant popsicle I made for the Sun Bears on a particularly warm day last week

A giant popsicle I made for the Sun Bears on a particularly warm day last week

While it can be a bloody and messy job, completing the meat diets is a rewarding feeling. Especially since to get the proper weight, some large pork neck bones must be cut in half! Bones for the tigers, lions and hyenas usually weigh in at around 1.5-2 lbs and our 5 tigers go through nearly 12 lbs of meat per day. I am always impressed by the variety of meat to which our carnivores have access. Not the least of which are ox tail bones, ground turkey, pork bones, frozen chickens, whole frozen rabbits, whole frozen rats, horse loin and even venison on occasion. Nearly every day our big cats and hyenas get bones but the type of ground meat they get changes depending on the day of the week. Our lucky senior Griffon Vulture gets a different type of meat every day of the week but he appears to be most fond of venison. Many of our other carnivorous/omnivorous birds get ground meat, fish and frozen mice in addition to vitamin oils and powders. It’s a stinky job to slice up defrosted smelt for the ibis but they do seem to love it.

Bird diets are another time consuming job taking 2 hours to make but they are well worth it and visually appealing. Over 20 trays are filled with different types of seeds, pellets and produce depending on the aviary they are going into. To make sure our birds don’t get bored we will put in additions like grated cheese, black beans, hard boiled eggs and oyster shell. A large portion of our birds and other animals are partially if not completely insectivores so for this reason we keep and care for live insects in the commissary. Besides, it’s always more soothing to prepare food to the sound of chirping crickets.

With enough volunteer or intern help, the summation of all these diets usually take 3-4 hours to make before they are taken up to the main zoo’s walk in refrigerator.  Defrosting meats, restocking our large fridge, tending to the insect colonies, and lots of cleaning are part of the normal daily duties. Work can be slow and laid back or rushed and stressful but one thing for certain is there’s never a boring day in commissary.