Archive for the ‘ZooKeepers’ Category

How you can help wild giraffe in Kenya

by | May 19th, 2016

When I ask people what they think a giraffe keeper does every day, a wide variety of tasks often come to mind. Harvesting branches, training, and of course, cleaning poop, are typically the top answers. The one thing that most people do not consider however, is being an advocate for wild giraffe in Africa. As our society has begun to move away from the notion that animals in the care of humans are meant to be entertainment, we have started understanding and utilizing our roles to help fight against the devastating loss of natural environments and their inhabitants. I recently returned from the International Giraffid Conference in Chicago, Illinois, and was fortune enough to meet some of the leading individuals who are speaking out for the wild giraffe population and doing ground breaking work in Africa.

John Doherty, keynote speaker at the 2016 International Giraffid Conference, and head of the Reticulated Giraffe Project in Kenya

John Doherty, keynote speaker at the 2016 International Giraffid Conference, and head of the Reticulated Giraffe Project in Kenya

Most people do not know but there are actually 9 subspecies of giraffe in Africa spread across 14 different countries. All subspecies are declining at different rates. This is mainly due to the variety of causes for each group. The most studied subspecies of giraffe are those that live in developed areas. Some areas where giraffe live are far too dangerous for humans to go, and most of them do not even have roads to get to the population themselves. The reticulated giraffe, the subspecies that Oakland Zoo and over 100 other AZA institutions hold, has seen a dramatic 77% decline in 17 years. Issues facing these giraffe in particular are predation by lions, livestock occupying land, human access to automatic weapons, and drought.

Me with Jacob and John of the Reticulated Giraffe Project

Me with Jacob and John of the Reticulated Giraffe Project

John Doherty and Jacob Leaidura of the Reticulated Giraffe Project in Kenya are working to combat many of the issues facing this subspecies. By providing their rangers with solar powered chargers, they are able to keep their devices up and running when they are out in the bush. This way they can transmit in real time giraffe sightings or emergency situations. They work closely with the children in surrounding villages to educate and build pride for these special animals, helping to create the next generation of conservationists who will keep a watchful eye over their country’s’ natural inhabitant. The most notable work John and Jacob have done is create a way to track populations of giraffe using telemetry that will not require the animal to be anesthetized in any way, avoiding unnecessary stress. To this day, adhering a tracking device to wild giraffe can be incredibly dangerous and terrifying for the animal, so the advancement in the RGP’s development is essential for the future of giraffe research.

Oakland Zoo is celebrating World Giraffe Day this year on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. All the proceeds from this event will go to support the Reticulated Giraffe Projects work in Kenya. Guests can get a chance to meet and feed our giraffes, up close and personal. Tickets for feeding the giraffes can be purchased online at Eventbrite. A limited amount of tickets will also be available day-of at the giraffe exhibit in the zoo. Activity tables, face painting, and informational stations will be set up around the exhibit for guests to enjoy. Please come out and support the wild giraffe in Kenya! I hope to see you there!

Feeding at World Giraffe Day 2015

Feeding at World Giraffe Day 2015

Oakland Zoo’s 20th Annual Celebrating Elephants Event is Coming Soon . . . . Help Celebrate twenty years of Action for Elephants- fundraising for conservation, champions of welfare, and campaigning for protective legislation.

by | May 3rd, 2016
Cynthia Moss, ATE Founder and Director, in the field with Echo.

Cynthia Moss, ATE Founder and Director, in the field with Echo.

May is one of my favorite times of the year. Why? Because we have two full days of celebrating elephants! Not that I don’t celebrate elephants everyday that I work with them, but these two days are unique because we get to meet thousands of visitors and teach them about elephants from how we care for them, where they sleep, what they eat, and the perils they face in the wild. The elephant barn staff spends weeks prepping for this event, cleaning every square inch of the barn and surrounding facility, as well as the 6.5 acres of elephant habitat. We also assist in the zoo wide set-up, helping set up interactive stations allover the zoo, making this a fun and exciting day for our guests. And of course, we are your super stars (besides the elephants!), and will be giving special tours explaining everything elephant. This year you’ll see Jeff, Ashley, Jessica, and Zach and they’ll answer any questions you may have. I am especially excited this year for our evening gala, featuring Cynthia Moss, founder of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. The evening gala team is composed of a small group who are very dedicated and work hard to secure donations and set-up every tiny detail in the Zimmer Auditorium from the tables, to the lights, to the food! We work hard because we know it’s our job as conservationists to help educate our visitors, and to raise funds to directly help our conservation partners. Please, we hope you will join us for the day or the evening, or maybe both, and remember that all proceeds go to protecting the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park.

Here’s what you need to know for the two events: http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Celebrating_Elephants.php

Saturday, May 21st from 6 – 9 p.m., the evening gala will feature special guest speaker, Cynthia Moss; she is a world renowned elephant expert, and director and founder of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE) and Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP).  She will amaze and Inspire with images and stories from over 40 years of studying the

elephants of Amboseli. This gala event is from 6 – 9 p.m. (presentation beginning at 7 p.m.) in the Zimmer Auditorium; tickets are available at the door and at celebratingelephantsgala2016@eventbrite.com.  Ticket prices are

Come wine and dine while bidding on lovely silent auction items! All to help save elephants!

Come wine and dine while bidding on lovely silent auction items! All to help save elephants!

based on a sliding scale from $40 to $100 which, in addition to Cynthia Moss’s presentation, includes heavy hors d’oeuvres, a hosted beer/wine bar, and the silent auction comprised of fabulous items, gift baskets, and gift certificates donated by Bay Area businesses.

 

Saturday, May 28th, all day family fun, elephant activities at the Zoo and are included with Zoo

On Celebrating Elephants Day, you'll get to make fun food filled treat boxes for our elephants and watch them eat it!

On Celebrating Elephants Day, you’ll get to make fun food filled treat boxes for our elephants and watch them eat it!

Admission!  Activities will include hands on experiences such as touching giant pachyderm bones and teeth, stepping on an elephant-sized footprint, participating in a mock research camp where observers watch and record elephant behaviors, and learn to identify Oakland Zoo’s African Elephants, Donna, Lisa, and M’Dunda. Elephant information and interactive stations will abound but be sure to visit the Tembo Preserve station to see drawings of the elephant facilities and learn more about our exciting plans (http://www.tembopreserve.org/). In the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo, visitors are invited to watch

Experience a special behind the scenes and see how the elephants are trained!

Circus Finelli, an animal free circus performance with comedy, acrobatics, juggling, dance and live music with performances at 12 p.m. and 2 pm.  In addition to these events, Celebrating Elephant Day offers the once-a-year chance to go behind the scenes and tour the elephant barn, and see an elephant up close!  Elephant keepers will tour you around the facility to see where the elephants sleep, how they are trained, and explain why they get a pedicure every day! The tours are scheduled every hour beginning at 10:30 a.m., concluding the final tour at 3:30 p.m. and require an additional charge of $10 for adults and $5 for kids under 16; tickets are available at the Flamingo Plaza and the Elephant Exhibit. We also feature an enrichment station where kids can create food filled treat boxes that will be fed out to the

Keepers giving a tour of the barn and explaining training techniques.

Keepers giving a tour of the barn and explaining training techniques.

elephants throughout the day.

All the proceeds from the Celebrating Elephants Events are donated to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants to continue their work and leadership in the research and conservation of African elephants. To date, Oakland Zoo has raised over $300,000 for ATE. To learn more visit   http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Amboseli_Trust.php. Thanks for helping Oakland Zoo take action for elephants!

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 lisa@oaklandzoo.org or Chantal Burnett at cburnett@oaklandzoo.org.

Big Life, Big Victories! Celebrating Elephants Gala 2015

by | May 13th, 2015
Check out our lovely silent auction on May 16th. Help us protect the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park.

Check out our lovely silent auction on May 16th. Help us protect the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park.

There has been so much going on with elephants this year we can hardly keep up! Did you know that last fall Oakland Zoo aided in the banning of the bullhook in our own city? Yep, that’s right by 2016 the traveling shows with elephants will no longer be able to visit Oakland. Los Angeles has already been successful with a bullhook ban as well. Did you know that last month Ringling Brothers announced that by 2018 they will discontinue the use of elephants in their show? Due to the continuing pressure on the circus not being welcomed in cities across the country because of the treatment of their animals, they gave up the fight against advocates trying to create legislation to stop them. Did you know that this week the city of San Francisco banned the use of performing exotic animals for entertainment in the city? There’s a movement happening, a culture shift, and Oakland Zoo is proud to be a part of the change they have been advocating for, for the last thirty years. Still in the works are Senate Bill 716, a California state bill that will prohibit the use of the bullhook (including the use of a similar tool like a pitchfork), on or even around elephants. Also we are actively working on Assembly Bill 96, a California state bill that will end the legal sales of ivory in California. Yes, ivory is still legal to sell in the state. Just walk down the streets in San Francisco Chinatown and you’ll see it in shop windows. See my previous blog for more info on the issue.

Oakland Zoo is part of both coalitions who are working toward SB 716 and AB 96, collaborating with

Fund-a-need: A fantastic contribution you can make at our silent auction is to give funds toward equipment and supplies for the team that protects the elephants in Amboseli.

Fund-a-need: A fantastic contribution you can make at our silent auction is to give funds toward equipment and supplies for the team that protects the elephants in Amboseli.

some fantastic organizations who all seek the same outcome: the safety and survival of elephants. While we have been advocating for the past thirty years for the management and training style called Protected Contact Positive Reinforcement (PCP+), we also take responsibility that our mission is conservation and education. This year we have dedicated our 19th annual Celebrating Elephants events to fight for the passage of AB 96. We very much welcome Big Life Foundation as a new partner and a 2014 Quarters for Conservation vote. Did you know that when you enter the zoo, twenty five cents of your admission goes directly toward conservation, and you get a token to vote on one of three projects it will go toward? That’s pretty cool!

Amy Baird, Associate Director of Big Life Foundation will be our guest speaker for our 19th annual Celebrating Elephants Gala, on May 16th.

Amy Baird, Associate Director of Big Life Foundation will be our guest speaker for our 19th annual Celebrating Elephants Gala, on May 16th.

Big Life, founded by wildlife photographer Nick Brandt, and conservationist Richard Bonham, focuses on anti-poaching efforts and protects two million acres of land in the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem. Big Life is the only organization in East Africa that has coordinated anti-poaching rangers operating on both sides of the Kenya-Tanzania border. To date they have arrested 1790 poachers, and seized 3,012 poaching tools and weapons, while employing 315 rangers with 31 outposts and 15 vehicles.  They recognize that sustainable conservation can only be reached through a community based collaborative approach. Their vision is to establish a successful holistic conservation model in Amboseli-Tsavo that can be replicated across the African continent. They not only protect the elephants that live on this land, but all wildlife. We are lucky enough to have Amy Baird, Associate Director of Big Life to be our guest speaker at the Celebrating Elephants Gala on May 16th.

Please join us for a special Big Life presentation, followed by a reception with spirits and appetizers, and

peruse the lovely silent auction. Doors open at 6:00 pm. Tickets are available at the door or in advance

A forty plus years research study and conservation organization, on the behavior and ecology of African Elephants.

A forty plus years research study and conservation organization, on the behavior and ecology of African Elephants.

at: celebratingelephants2015.brownpapertickets.com. You may also make donations through this site if you can’t make it to the auction. And don’t forget to grab the entire family and join us for the day event on May 23rd, where you will experience the once-a-year opportunity to tour the elephant barn and talk to the staff about how the elephants are taken care of. For more detailed information check it out here:http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Celebrating_Elephants.php.  All proceeds of the two events go to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya, check out their website here: https://www.elephanttrust.org/.

So we asked the giraffe, “How do you really feel?”

by | April 21st, 2015

I have worked with UC Davis for almost 10 years on a variety of projects – raising California salamanders, watching turtle interactions, training dolphins, living amongst monkeys in India, and watching chimpanzees – and though all these projects have been fascinating, the current project we are launching excites me to the core. Our Animal Well-Being Research program at Oakland Zoo is still in its infancy, but it’s strong, vibrant, and ready to pave the way in enhancing our animal’s lives and what we know about them.  We’re developing new ways for keepers to let animals tell (or show) us about their emotional lives.  Some of these new ‘tools’ are borrowed from the large human literature on human emotion (termed “affective science”).  Others, we’ll be building ourselves.

The first reason I am excited about the research, which is be described below, is that we will be working directly with Dr. Eliza Bliss-Moreau at the University of California, Davis, with whom I have worked since 2009 on a variety of other forward-looking projects in animal welfare. Dr. Bliss-Moreau studies emotion and the biological ingredients that make up emotions. Her multi-method and multi-species approach to understanding the social and affective lives of both humans and nonhuman animals is, in our opinion, revolutionary. Her work points to evidence from biological research to challenge commonly-held beliefs about what emotions are and about how we interpret their presence in others.  Armed with new questions, she’s looking for ways for animals to tell us about their experiences using biological tools that are new to animal welfare. We are lucky to have such a great mind at the helm, and she has remarked that our animal care team and program supports a ‘living laboratory’ that enhances both science and animal well-being.

The second reason I am excited about this research is it has the potential to be ground-breaking – not only in what we know about animals, but also in what we can do to enhance their lives. The goal of our collaborative research project is to investigate whether the cardiac system in nonhuman mammals functions similarly to that of humans during emotional experiences.  When people interact, we use what we know about emotions to gather information about whether others are feeling down, gleeful, tired, apprehensive, excited, etc. We are all familiar with what it feels like to walk into a final exam or job interview, see a car accident, or fall in love.  They are all experiences that can be felt physically, with our hearts pumping faster, our stomachs tightening, etc. When in doubt, we can ask each other how we feel.

In the same way, as animals keepers, we perceive the behaviors of animals using our own human understanding of them (which may or may not be 100% accurate relative to what the animal is experiencing), but we can’t take the next step in asking them how they are feeling. There is no doubt that animals live dynamic, enriched lives as well, but until recently it has not been possible to look at how animals experience their environment from the inside out—by noninvasively evaluating a biological system (in this case, the cardiac system) that responds quickly and efficiently to the environment.DSC_0013

The current focus of our new efforts is in training the giraffe to participate in a testing process that will record the function of the heart—electrocardiograms (ECG or EKG) and impedance cardiograms. The cardiac system is regulated by two branches of the autonomic nervous system: the parasympathetic branch and the sympathetic branch.  While people sometimes think of the parasympathetic branch is the “rest and digest” system (where activity in the system calms someone down so that they can prepare for the future by eating, sleeping, and reproducing) and the sympathetic branch as the “fight or flight” system (where activity in the system allows someone to attack or run away) the two branches work together to keep us balanced, which allows us to respond appropriately to different situations. Dr. Bliss-Moreau explains it this way: “While the control centers for the autonomic nervous system are in the brain, the system is based in the body and regulating physiology south of the brainstem.  It is largely responsible for generating one of the necessary and critical ingredients of emotion– affect. I typically talk about autonomic nervous activity as giving “color” to experience.  Its activity is why hearing footsteps in a dark alleyway feels negative; the ramped-up feeling when you’re anticipating something major to happen; the pleasantness of a really good massage, and so on.”

Dr. Bliss-Moreau and many other affective scientists (see https://society-for-affective-science.org/) are involved in research looking at how the autonomic nervous system (ANS) responds to brief emotional stimuli (a honk of a loud horn, a tear-jerking Super Bowl commercial) and also how there are sDSC_0112table differences between individuals in how their autonomic nervous systems function.  With regards to the latter, the idea is that if you track ANS activity in different animals across time, you’ll see patterns.  And then changes to those patterns might indicate changes in mood states. We’ll be doing this work first with the Oakland Zoo’s giraffes and ring-tailed lemurs. “If we can show that variation between individuals or within a particular individual across time is meaningful, then it opens the possibility of asking an animal, ‘how are you today?’, putting on some sensors, recording some data, and getting an answer. Cool, right?  I think it’s SUPER cool!” said Dr. Bliss-Moreau. But before we can do this, we have to develop new ways to collect such recordings in a way that is non-invasive for the animals, as well as train the animals to participate willingly in the data collection.

For each animal involved with this research, we start by training the animals that the research equipment (sensors, leads, stethoscope, etc.) are not painful or even just simply icky. We do this by using positive reinforcement, habituation, and desensitization – training methods that reinforce an animal’s comfort and control in the situation. This basically means that you pair something new (like physiology equipment) with something really good (like pieces of banana) until the animal is comfortable with having the novel stimulus around and touching them.

IMG_0444You can see zookeepers and Dr. Bliss-Moreau habituating and desensitizing one of our giraffes, ‘Benghazi,’ to being touched with sticky sensors. When Benghazi is calm, and allows the training team to touch him with the sensors, he is rewarded with one of his favorite foods (which in Benghazi’s case is bananas, whole wheat bread, and carrots). You can also see that Benghazi is not restrained, and can walk away from the training session at any time he chooses. Over time and with repetition, Benghazi learns that nothing bad happens to him when the keeper touches him with the sensors. Interestingly, we needed to place the sensors on poles and hold them against Benghazi’s skin since giraffes naturally exude an oily ‘insect repellant’ that prevents the sensors from sticking to his skin. In this most recent training session, Dr. Bliss-Moreau and our Oakland Zoo giraffe training team were able to record “beautiful” (according to Dr. Bliss-Moreau) cardiac data – our first major victory!

As we wrapped up the training session Dr. Bliss-Moreau observed, “It DSC_0118was really exciting for us to see the giraffes at the Oakland Zoo participating in this research, especially since we’ve been using the same techniques to get our monkeys ready for physiology data collection in the lab… We developed a reward-based training technique that uses cooperative training allowing rhesus macaques to work with us to participate in similar hands-on testing in just a few weeks. Using these cooperative training techniques and data collection methods means that animals are really our partners in the research—participants, rather than subjects!”

There is still a long road ahead of us, but one that is well-worth traveling. There are likely differences in how animals and humans not only perceive their world, but in how they feel about it as well. Studies like this are important for our understanding of both the similarities and differences. This aids in our understanding of non-human life on our planet as much as it aids in our ensuring the animals we care for have enriching physical, social, and emotional lives.

Oakland Zoo Veterinarian in Africa – Conclusion

by | March 3rd, 2015

March 1 and 2

 

Parting thoughts…

 

The journey home from QENP and Uganda takes three days, which gives me ample time to reflect on all I have seen and learned in the past 16 days. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to travel to Uganda, work in the field alongside conservation experts, discover exotic cultures, and begin a project that may ultimately aid in saving a critically endangered ecosystem. Dr. Siefert and James will continue the fight for tomorrows, while we help from home until we return. I hope that my words from Uganda have been educational, entertaining, and maybe even a little inspirational for those of you who have followed our journey. If that’s the case, or even if it’s just because lion cubs are one of the cutest things on the planet, please be sure to visit UCP’s webpage often www.uganda-carnivores.org – maybe you, too, can give them a chance for tomorrow. Until the next visit…Cub with kob

Papa resting