Archive for the ‘ZooKeepers’ Category

Leaping Lemurs!

by | March 25th, 2014
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Ring-tailed lemurs at Oakland Zoo

Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa, is a beautiful hotspot for biodiversity.  It is estimated that 90% of the plants and animals living in Madagascar are endemic, meaning they occur nowhere else in the world!  Unfortunately, the island nation (about the size of the state of Texas) and its inhabitants are facing some extreme threats.

While it may be rich in biodiversity, the Malagasy people are among the poorest in the world.  It is estimated that over 92% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.  A military coup in 2009 caused further economic instability, and the subsequent anarchy increased the illegal logging of rosewood.  One of the few reliable sources of income, thousands of Malagasy people flocked to the rosewood forests to support their families.  In addition to the problem of rapid deforestation, many people turned to lemurs as a source of protein, illegally hunting them for bush meat.

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Sclater’s or Blue Eyed lemur at Oakland Zoo. Photo Credit: Anthony C. Brewer

Lemurs are the most endangered mammals in the world.  Of the 101 species of lemur in Madagascar, IUCN considers 60 of them endangered or critically endangered.  Another 20 species are considered vulnerable.  Lemurs are prosimians, meaning that they are primates, but still maintain many “primitive” characteristics of other mammals such as the bicornate uterus.  Like other primates, they do possess opposable thumbs and fingernails rather than claws.    Oakland Zoo houses two species of lemurs, Ring-tailed lemurs and Sclaters or Blue-Eyed lemurs.  Blue eyed lemurs have been listed as one of the 25 most endangered primates for over 6 years.

Conserving lemurs is critically important for the biodiversity of Madagascar.  While logging of Rosewood is illegal, the political unrest that has been extant in Madagascar for over 4 years has allowed it to not only continue, but to increase.  Rosewood is valued for its rich color and hard texture, making it good for furniture.  While the supply comes from Madagascar, the demand for this wood is right here in the US and throughout the western world.  Recently, the Malagasy people elected a president and hopes are high that a stable government system will rein in the illegal logging and poaching practices that have become commonplace.

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Two of Oakland Zoo’s lemurs actually painting!

However, the fact remains that rosewood is mainly sold to westerners.  If the demand were lower or nonexistent, the motivation for deforestation would be almost nonexistent.  So what can you do to protect lemurs in Madagascar?  Do not purchase furniture made from rosewood, and educate your friends and family about the plight of the lemurs.  Email or call Genny Greene (genny@oaklandzoo.org or call (510)632-9529 ext. 167) to learn how you can win a special Behind-the-Scenes visit with our very own lemurs here at Oakland Zoo. Your special visit will include an actual in-person live painting made by our lemurs made just for you. All proceeds will go to lemur conservation efforts in Madagascar (see below for more detailed information). And don’t forget to go see the new IMAX film – Island of the Lemurs which opens on April 4th.

**All proceeds from the raffle benefit lemur conservation through Centre Val Bio.  Centre Val Bio is a research station in Madagascar run by Dr. Patricia Wright who has been studying lemurs for more than two decades.  She is the founder of Centre Val Bio and the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments which led to the establishment of Ranomafauna National Park in Madagascar.  Dr. Wright was the sole scientific advisor for the upcoming IMAX film “Island of the Lemurs” which will be released on April 4th.  For more information:   http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/centre-valbio/index.html

Learning how to train animals…

by | March 10th, 2014
Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

I recently had the privilege of attending a workshop on Contemporary Animal Training and Management hosted by

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Natural Encounters, Inc. in Florida.  It was an amazing educational experience, and I honestly can’t stop thinking about it.

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

The 5 day workshop followed a format that balanced both theoretical presentations and practical hands-on training sessions. Experienced animal trainers and animal behavior scientists were on hand to share their expertise and answer our endless list of questions.  I got the opportunity to network with dozens of other zoo professionals, dog trainers, and companion parrot owners.  The challenge after any workshop, conference, or seminar that I participate in is applying my new or improved skills with the animals that I work with at the Oakland Zoo.  Fortunately, this challenge is the reason I love my job!

You may be wondering why we bother with animal training, who we train, or how we train.  Training has been described as the ultimate form of enrichment.  The application of enrichment seeks to stimulate our animals both physically and mentally while also empowering them to make their own choices and control their environments.  Perhaps that’s a bit of a “wordy” description of the concept.  Bottom line is the animal gets to exercise their brain and often their body by doing something…anything really.  At the Oakland Zoo, we do all kinds of training with all kinds of animals.  Leonard, our male African lion, is trained to place his paw on an x-ray plate and hold still for x-rays.  Tiki, one of our Reticulated giraffe, is trained to present her feet for hoof trimmings and acupuncture treatments. Torako, one of our tigers, is trained to position her tail through a hatch so that Zookeepers can safely draw blood from a vein in her tail.  The flock of Red-bellied Parrots in our Savannah Aviary exhibit are trained to perch on particular stations so that Zookeepers can examine them daily.

You may be noticing a theme.  Many of our training goals seek to empower the animal to willingly and eagerly participate in their own husbandry and medical care.  All of these animals have the choice to walk away in the middle of a training session if they want.  Ultimately, this allows the animal AND the Zookeeper to function in a low-stress, highly reinforcing tandem.  The animal is having fun, and the Zookeeper is having fun!

Thanks for reading!  I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures from the Contemporary Animal Training and Management workshop.

The Lions of Oakland Zoo…Sandy & Leonard

by | February 7th, 2014
Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

 

If you’ve been to the Zoo, you’ve likely seen Sandy & Leonard, lounging around in their expansive exhibit, soaking up the sun or enjoying some animal enrichment their loving ZooKeepers so carefully laid out for them earlier that morning. Their presence is awe inspiring, to say the least. It’s hard to believe it has been almost one and a half decades since they arrived here as cubs at Oakland Zoo.  Many people don’t know the history of these two- siblings, actually- so we’d like to share their story with you.

They were the first rescued lions to be placed in a zoo by the Houston SPCA. It was July, 2000 in Crockett, Texas.  Police entered a suspect’s property on an unrelated warrant and found 14 exotic cats and a wolf. Houston SPCA seized all the animals and was given custody of them after the owner had been found to have cruelly treated the animals: depriving them of necessary food, care, and shelter. Two of the cats were 4-month old lion cubs; they were starving, dehydrated, flea ridden, and their coats were patchy and dry.  The Houston SPCA provided them with housing and veterinary care and a month later, they arrived to us, via Continental Airlines, here at Oakland Zoo.

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Thus named “Sandy” and “Leonard” the two resided in our Veterinary Care Center while they gained weight and strength. At the time, the Zoo already had an established lion pride, so a separate outdoor holding area was constructed adjacent to the existing lion exhibit, called ‘Simba Pori’.

As the cubs grew, ZooKeepers began plans to introduce Sandy and Leonard to our four resident mature lions, Victor, Marika, Sophie and Maddie. In January 2001, Sandy and Leonard moved up to the lion night house. The introduction and integration of the lions had moderate success. The youngsters did well with our adult male, Victor, and one adult female, Marika, but the other two females did not appreciate their presence.  As with domestic cats, you never know how felines will get along! We took our cues from the lions’

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

behaviors and decided to manage the lions as separate groups. Over the years, in 2010, the older lions succumbed to age-related illnesses (2 from kidney disease and 2 from cancer). So, today, Sandy and Leonard have taken ownership of the lion exhibit, the night house, and the hearts of staff, ZooKeepers and guests alike.

While their beginnings in the exotic animal trade surely could have destined them to a life of cruelty, we were fortunate to have been able to provide them with a safe and forever home here at the zoo.

Conservation On-Site: The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog

by | January 29th, 2014

As you visit Oakland Zoo this winter and spring you may notice that the animals and projects we are supporting at our Quarters for Conservation booth in Flamingo Plaza have changed.   I would like you to pay special attention to the developing partnership with the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog project.   This project teams up Oakland Zoo with San Francisco State University in bringing awareness to and supporting the recovery of this critically endangered species that is found right here in the mountains of California.

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Once one of the most numerous species found in their alpine habitat in the Sierra Nevada, Transverse, and Peninsular ranges they are now one of the rarest despite this habitat being found in some of the most well-managed and inaccessible areas of the state.    During some of the initial research looking into this decline the focus was on the impact and removal of game fish that were introduced to their alpine habitats, such as trout.   The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog evolved in a habitat where such efficient predators were not common and the eggs, tadpoles, and frogs themselves became easy prey.  With the management and removal of these introduced fish species some areas showed rapid recovery of frogs.    However, some did not, and in fact the overall population continued to decline.    The emerging disease known as the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) was found to be the cause of this continued decline and was attacking the frogs during one of their most sensitive transitions in life, the one between tadpole and juvenile life stages.    The chytrid fungus works by attacking the keratin in the skin of juvenile and adult frogs preventing them from being able to use their skin to respirate and exchange water leading to their deaths, wiping out whole populations.   For some reason the disease does not affect the tadpoles of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, but it will remain with them through the several years they spend as a tadpole.    This makes the tadpoles, along with several other frog species that are not affected, a means to not only infect their own kind with this deadly fungus, but to make it almost impossible to eliminate from the environment.

With this revelation the focus to save the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog changed to not only manage and remove non-native fish, but to support the frogs in gaining resistance to the chytrid fungus during this transition in their life.   The support comes in the form of a bacterium called Janthinobacterium lividum.    The bacteria was discovered on the skin of a fellow amphibian, the red-backed salamander, and later discovered to also be present on the skins of Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog in varying levels.   This bacterium has the unique feature of having anti-fungal properties and when found in greater numbers on amphibian skin can help to increase resistance to the chytrid fungus.    Now, in steps Dr. Vance Vredenburg and the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog Project.   Dr. Vredenburg has been pioneering skin bio augmentation treatments using Janthinobacterium lividum to support juvenile frogs that are being rereleased or will be re-released into their habitats in both Northern and Southern California.     Through a partnership with San Diego Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, and soon Oakland Zoo, San Francisco State University is hoping to tip the balance for these frogs by collecting them as eggs from their habitat, hatching them in captivity, raise them to juvenile frogs, treating them with this anti-chytrid bacterium, and release them back into their natal ponds and streams.   It is hoped that not only will this prove to provide long term resistance to chytrid, but will be naturally passed between frogs as they naturally congregate together in the shallows off the banks of the rivers and lakes they live.

If you are interested in learning more about the plight of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and supporting them as well during their most vulnerable transitions you can join us on Wednesday February 5th at 6:30 p.m. in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium at our Conservation Speaker Series event when Dr. Vance Vredenburg joins us to discuss his work with the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and the implications his research has to save this and potentially numerous other amphibian species worldwide.

 by Victor Alm, Zoological Manager

 

PARENTS GET A “TIME-OUT”

by | January 28th, 2014

Hey Parents!parentnightout

Need a fun place to leave the kids while you go out and enjoy some time alone with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? Look no further than Oakland Zoo. Starting this year, the Zoo is offering a fun new program called “Parents Night Out” that might be just what you’re looking for. But it’s more than simply “babysitting at the Zoo” – geared for children aged 4 to 10 years, this program offers a full evening of entertaining animal-themed fun. Once you drop off your kids, you can rest easy knowing they’re having a good time and being well taken care of. They’ll start off enjoying a pizza dinner, followed by a cool guided walk through the Children’s Zoo to visit animals such as alligators, bats, turtles, frogs, lizards and bugs. They will even get a sneak peek at where the ZooKeepers prepare the food for all the animals of the Zoo. Later, in the auditorium, your kids will be able to participate in a fun game or craft, followed by an ‘animal close-up’, where they get to meet an animal up close and personal. Then, we top off the evening with an exciting animal-themed movie. All this for $30 per child (plus $25 for each additional sibling.) Not bad to ensure some quality couple time on Valentine’s Day.

You can drop off your kids at the Marian Zimmer Auditorium at 5:30 in the evening and stay out till 10:00pm, giving you a full evening to “get away from it all” with dinner, dancing, a movie, or a romantic stroll. And when you come back to pick up your kids, they’ll have plenty of exciting things to share about their evening at the Zoo. And if things take off like we’re expecting, we’re hoping to expand our Parents Night Out program on selected Friday or Saturday evenings at other times during the year. So if you want to have one of those special Valentine’s Days like you used to have, give Oakland Zoo a call and sign your kids up for “Parents’ Night Out.” Then, go out and hit the town. We’ll see you when you get back!

 

The Majestic Elephants at Oakland Zoo…

by | January 21st, 2014

Often, we at the Zoo are asked about the history of our majestic and beautiful African elephants. In her blog below, Gina Kinzley, Oakland Zoo Elephant Keeper, shares a little of the history and personalities of Donna, M’Dunda, Osh and Lisa. Now that you know them a bit more intimately, come to the Zoo and say hi! You can also see how Gina ‘trains’ our elephants to for situations involving medical procedures, foot-maintenance, and mental stimulation exercises in this video, filmed recently.

The African Elephants of Oakland Zoo:

All of the girls come from Africa originally, but their families were killed in a culling. Culling is the very controversial method of population management. At that time, the young orphans were caught and sold for profit, which is how they ended up in the United States. I won’t name the previous facilities that they were all at, but all of them have a history of abuse in ‘free contact’ management. At Oakland Zoo, we practice ‘protected contact’, as we explain is for the safety of the both our elephants and their keepers, in the HBO documentary “Apology to Elephants”.

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Donna, 34, came to OZ in 1989. She very quickly became the the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls and loves to have big play bouts at nighttime with large tractor tires and will charge into the pool for a cool down! Personality-wise Donna is impatient, loves to participate in training, and is closely bonded with Lisa, whom she sleeps with every night.elephantpedi

M’Dunda, 44, came to OZ in 1991. She has a bad history of abuse at her previous facility which is amazing because she is an extremely gentle soul and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She loves to solicit play from Osh, and is often spotted at night over the fenceline trunk twirling with him. She can be a little insecure, and scared of new situations. When she first came here she wouldn’t eat her treat boxes! She also has long beautiful tusks.

Lisa, 36, has been at OZ since she has been two years old. She came from Kruger National Park in South Africa and went briefly to a “training” facility for several months then came to the zoo. Lisa is an elephant’s elephant, she likes all of her pachyderm friends, and wants to make everyone happy. She loves her pool, we call her our water baby, and will take daily dips if the weather is right! She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

Osh, 19, has been at OZ since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born and with his family group. Young males in the wild get kicked out of their herd from ages 8-12, and that is what Osh’s mom and aunts started to act toward him, so we gave him a home here. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, loves to play, browse and graze.

At Oakland Zoo we care deeply about the well-being of elephants in captivity, as well as their conservation in the wild. Currently 96 elephants a day in Africa are being killed for their tusks, or ivory. Now that you’ve learned about how intelligent, unique, and beautiful our elephants are here at the zoo, please visit www.96elephants.org for more information on how you can help elephants in the wild. This issue is very important to us, and increasing public awareness is a priority. Stay tuned over the coming months for more information about the fight against the illegal ivory trade and the work of www.96elephants.org.

Food favorites: Pumpkins, Melons, and Pineapples. Want to feed our elephants? Come to our next Feast for the Beasts event on March 29th!