Archive for the ‘ZooKeepers’ Category

Help Us Celebrate Elephants!

by | May 14th, 2013
Jeff Kinzley, Elephant Manager, educating families on what it takes to manage elephants.

Jeff Kinzley, Elephant Manager, educating families on what it takes to manage elephants.

The hustle and bustle of the holidays come and go, New Years resolutions are made (and accomplished of course!), roses and romance are in the air, and then by the time March comes all I can think about is Celebrating Elephants is almost here!!! You thought I was going to say the Easter Bunny didn’t you? For the past seventeen years, Oakland Zoo has put on this wonderful fundraiser to support African Elephant conservation, part of our duty as a zoological institution. All of the proceeds go to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya, led by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss. Almost everything we know about African Elephants today is through her ongoing work. Cynthia has led a research team at Amboseli National Park for the past forty years, studying every aspect of these elephants lives; generations of births and deaths, droughts and rains, and unfortunately witnessing the ongoing devastation of the ivory trade. One of the most important aspects of the researchers being a part of the everyday lives of these elephants is that their presence in the park provides the elephants with some protection from ivory poachers. The researchers are able to work with the local villages as well as the rangers to help keep the elephants as safe as possible. Unfortunately with the uprising interest and value of ivory, along with corrupt government, an estimated 40,000 elephants are being poached every year throughout the continent. Therefore, we need to do everything we can to help stop elephants from going extinct, and that includes your support!!

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A glimpse of some of the beautiful auction items that are donated to support Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

Celebrating Elephants is held in two parts, the first is a family fun and adventure packed day which will be on Saturday, May 25th. This will include opportunities for families to visit an elephant up close, create treat box enrichment for the elephants to eat, do behavioral observations of the elephants on exhibit, as well as eat cotton candy and get their faces painted! This is our opportunity to increase awareness of the ongoing and increasing destruction of the ivory trade, as well as the cruelty of the circus. Kids will have the chance to see how we safely and humanely care for our elephants.

The second portion of the event will be an evening of h’ordeurves and spirits, accompanied by a silent auction and guest speaker on Friday May 17th. This year we have the great pleasure of welcoming friend and mentor, Ed Stewart, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society; a leader in animal welfare and rescue. Since 1984, PAWS has been at the forefront of efforts to rescue and provide appropriate, humane sanctuary for animals who have been the victims of the exotic and performing animal trades. Ed will share the interesting and heartwarming stories of the lives of the elephants living in the sanctuary of ARK 2000 in the San Andreas hills of California.

Over the past sixteen years we have raised over 200,000 dollars for the Trust. With support from zoo guests, volunteers, and staff we all work together to put on and have fun at an amazing event. We also could not be as successful without help from the zoo supporters, local businesses, and artists who make donations for our silent auction. This 17th year is dedicated to and in memory of Pat Derby, co-founder of Performing Animal Welfare Society, a dear friend and endless fighter for animal welfare and rescue. Please come join us for one or both events, and help us celebrate elephants with the respect, compassion, and awareness they deserve!  Visit the zoo website for more detailed information. http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=402

In The Majesty of Elephants

by | May 10th, 2013

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Gina Kinzley is the lead elephant keeper at Oakland Zoo. We wanted to learn more about the elephants and her role with them, so we asked her some questions. Here is our interview:

 

 

 

 

Q: Oakland Zoo is having two Celebrating Elephants events in May (May 17 and 25). Why are elephants worth celebrating?

A: Elephants hold a special place in our hearts due to their majestic being, their family values, and their intelligence and emotions that they so clearly communicate.

Q: How many elephants are at Oakland Zoo?

A: We have been four African elephants, three females and one male.

Q: Where did our current elephants come from?

A:    Our three females come from different countries in Africa. They were part of a culling – or killing – of all of their family members. The three were saved as orphans and sold for profit. This was a very common practice decades ago, but is not one we currently support or endorse. Osh, our bull, was born in captivity at another facility in England. He outgrew his herd members; we were looking for a male, so we gave him a new forever home here at Oakland Zoo.

Q: How do you transport an elephant from England to Oakland Zoo?

A: We had to ship Osh overseas: he was first transported by a crane, than in a giant steel crate by a ferry, cargo plane, and then a truck from Los Angeles.

Q:  Do elephants express happiness? Are elephants “happy” at Oakland Zoo?

A:   Although we try not to anthropomorphize, or convey human emotion on our animals, we believe our elephants are leading healthy and happy lives. We provide them with lots of browse (leaves and branches) and enrichment, and a spacious facility for them to investigate and exercise. Sometimes they do make certain noises we believe are signs of contentment: they vibrate their tongue between their lips, and it sounds like a cat purring. We call it a raspberry.

Q: Oakland Zoo is well-known for how we treat our elephants. What do we do differently from other zoological institutions, and why did we decide to go that route?

A:   Since 1992, we have been managing our elephants in what we call a “protected contact training style,” which uses positive reinforcement to get the elephant to do what we ask. This means that we work with our elephants in a protected style, using barriers when training or doing foot care. More importantly, when the elephants choose to work with us, we use positive reinforcement such as praise and treats for doing what we ask. We do not have a dominant relationship over the elephant, use an ankus (a spiked rod), or use punishment and negative reinforcement, such as the case in some free-contact zoos and all circuses. We are very outspoken against the abuse and negligence of circuses toward elephants and other animals. This method of training is catching on in other zoos, as they are realizing how important this management style is, especially since keeper injuries and deaths from elephants continue to happen.

Q: Should elephants be kept in zoos?

A:   If there wasn’t ivory poaching or loss of habitat due to human encroachment, then elephants shouldn’t have to be in zoos. However, because their populations are threatened and endangered, we need to help their species survive. Having elephants in captivity is a huge responsibility, and all facilities that hold them need to provide them with everything they need: social companionship, space, browse, grass, just to name a few.

Q:  If I was concerned about elephants (or other animals) being abused in circuses or other situations, what can I do about it? What is my first step?

A:   If you have concerns about elephants being abused in circuses or zoos, you can write them a letter and express your thoughts. You can also blog, tweet, and facebook about it and make your voice heard! There are several animal activist groups you can reach out to as well. Juliette Speaks (http://juliettespeaks.org), founded by Juliette West, is a great starting point. Juliette is a young woman trying to educate others about the peril elephants face in the wild, and their exploitation in captivity.

Q:     Do you think elephants could be taught tricks without using abusive or painful methods?

A:   Yes, absolutely. There are many good training programs out there that use positive reinforcement and can train really cool behaviors such as waving a trunk or shaking its head and flapping it’s ears. 

Behaviors such as hind-leg stands like you would see in the circus and some zoos, where an elephant sits on it’s back legs, or rest on its head with its rear legs kicked up, are completely unnecessary and unnatural behaviors for an elephant to learn, and in the long run can cause arthritis or other problems.

Q: What is Oakland Zoo doing about elephants in the circuses, and about elephants in the wild?

A:   Oakland Zoo hosts an annual Celebrating Elephants Day (May 25) where kids can learn about how we can humanely care for elephants. We also teach kids and families about the cruelty to animals found in many circuses and how we can change this behavior. Along with the daytime event, we host an evening silent auction and lecture with a guest speaker (this year’s speaker is Ed Stewart, co-founder of Performing Animals Welfare Society, PAWS). All of the proceeds go to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya, led by renowned researcher Cynthia Moss (http://www.elephanttrust.org/). Over the years, Oakland Zoo has donated over $200,000 to Amboseli Elephant Trust, helping the foundation conduct important ongoing research as well as protecting the elephants from the ivory trade.

Q: How can people get more involved?

A:   If you’d like to get involved you can help by coming to the event, help make treat boxes for the elephants and do your own behavioral observations, learn about what it takes to take care of an elephant, and then spread the word to your friends. You can find out more at www.oaklandzoo.org.

Q:  How do I become an elephant keeper?

A:   Becoming an elephant keeper takes hard work, dedication, and true knowledge of the species management and natural history. You can volunteer to help with Oakland Zoo’s animals too, including the elephants. See www.oaklandzoo.org for volunteer opportunities. 

Pachyderm Podiatry

by | April 13th, 2013

I recently attended the 2013 Elephant Care Workshop at the Phoenix Zoo. The Workshop is put on by the zoo’s highly

Indu, one of the three beautiful Asian female elephants of the Phoenix Zoo.

Indu, one of the three beautiful Asian female elephants of the Phoenix Zoo.

dedicated and compassionate elephant staff, as well as their partner Alan Roocroft who operates Elephant Business, a small elephant management consulting company. There were several keynote speakers, besides Alan, who covered topics from tusk and oral care to elephant diseases and radiographs. The focus of the workshop was foot care, which involves several issues, such as disease and abscesses, tool care and use, foot anatomy, habitat complexity and interaction, and exercise. When talking elephants, there are a multitude of things that are important when it comes to their health and well-being, but the care of their feet is at the top of the list. Foot disease and related issues are the number one reason for death in captive elephants. As Alan says, “foot care should be a culture at your facility”. I took away several important key facts from this workshop and I’d like to share them.

To provide elephants in captivity with everything they need is providing them with health and well-being physiologically, physically, and psychologically. If one of those three is off than the others don’t work as well, or at all. What I learned during our

Jessica, one of the five dedicated Elephant Keepers, giving the daily pedicure at the Oakland Zoo.

Jessica, one of the five dedicated Elephant Keepers, giving the daily pedicure at the Oakland Zoo.

lectures and discussions in the workshop is that a healthy mind equals healthy feet and vice versa. But what does it take to create a healthy mind and in turn healthy feet? Three basic things: firstly, the philosophy of the institution. We are fortunate that our management prioritizes elephant care and understands that foot care is a priority during the daily routine. Each day the keepers spend up to four hours working with the elephants on daily husbandry and training. If there is not trained competent staff as well as elephants along with sufficient time, then the elephant’s needs cannot be met.

Secondly, a basic understanding of an elephant’s natural history and biological needs is required. This seems so simple when thinking about it . . . spacious facilities, dirt, mud, browse, grass, varied terrain, social groups . . . the list goes on and on.  We need to create complex environments and interactive habitats or else the elephants mind is not stimulated. If the mind is not stimulated then we end up with inactive, overweight, and arthritic elephants. Our goal should be to get the elephants moving, which means exercise is key. Elephants need space to move, but they also need a reason. Encouraging movement through spreading food ten times a day, hanging browse far and wide, providing acres of grass to graze from, are a few of the reasons our elephants at Oakland Zoo get their exercise. Besides exercise, we need to provide them with stimulation through reaching, digging, mudding, climbing different terrains, stepping over mounds of sand, stripping bark off of logs, etc. These are all ways they use their feet and stimulate healthy blood flow.

M'Dundamella atop the hillside grazing.

M’Dundamella atop the hillside grazing.

Lastly, imagination is the third factor that ties everything together. If a facility has the right philosophy and vision then they can create facility design that meets the elephant’s needs through the right imagination. When Oakland Zoo expanded the elephant exhibit in 2004, we did it with little funding because that’s all it took. We expanded the space by four acres, three of which were irrigated and seeded creating the opportunity for grazing, again a basic biological need of an elephant. Besides having the proper facility design, the keepers work on daily enrichment such a cutting fresh grass and weeds, but also on weekly enrichment such as hanging puzzle feeders on a pulley system, or stacking large tires and planting thirty foot logs for pushing over. As their caretakers, we need to provide them with the basics and more, and also provide them with the opportunity to create behavior chains. A behavior chain is a series of behaviors that occur simultaneously and instinctively. Time after time, I have observed Lisa elephant go for a swim, get out of the pool and dust with a dirt pile to dry and protect her skin, and then scratch on a large planted log (typically after elephants get wet and muddy, they get itchy, so they prefer to scratch). This would be an example of a behavior chain, but would not be possible if Lisa was not provided with any of these things. Enriching elephants is a huge challenge and I’ve always thought, how define enrichment for elephants when so many of these things are basic needs.  Browse and dirt and grass shouldn’t be enrichment, it should be standard.

Donna dusting to keep her skin protected.

Donna dusting to keep her skin protected.

Unfortunately many facilities, particularly circuses, cannot meet the physical and psychological demands of elephants. Being confined to small spaces, inactive and stagnant for hours standing on concrete equals inactive feet. Inactive feet means devascularization of important tissue that would normally be flowing with circulation. When tissue dies it becomes necrotic and infected, which causes an abscess in the foot. If infection reaches the bones in the feet, which are very close to the toenails, and causes osteitis, then the chances of survival are slim. Besides abscesses, arthritis is also another highly common ailment in elephants. Arthritis has many causes such as inactivity, stereotypic behavior such as swaying, obesity, and injury. Inactivity caused by sterile environments, can in turn cause abscesses and arthritis which can therefore cause altered body conformation which is very important in elephants. Elephants have pillars for legs which they need to support their weight. These legs stand almost directly underneath them, and their body weight is distributed by the midline sixty percent in the front, and forty percent in the back. If one thing is wrong, this whole system may be compromised. Depending on which leg or foot is injured, the whole weight distribution will be shifted to compensate for the issue, which in turn will have long term consequences and further health issues.

One of the most important lessons I have learned from my mentors in being an elephant keeper is to know what your elephants are doing and know what they’re going to do. We need to continually expand our knowledge about the elephants that are in our care and we can do that through learning and witnessing their natural behavior in the wild, as well as observing their behavior in captivity. As an elephant keeper, our responsibility does not turn off when we go

Osh browsing.

Osh browsing.

home. The elephants’ behaviors don’t just come to a halt when we leave them for the day. Therefore, we should know what they do during the entire twenty-four hours of the day. At Oakland Zoo, our elephants are observed during the day by a team of ten volunteer observers; they are recorded at night during the winter time in the barn, and are watched for two full nights a month when they sleep outside during summer months. Through these observations we have been able to alter our management to best suit their needs. We also have collected hundreds of hours of data to help us define the elephants’ behavioral activity budget as well as how far they travel in a day, which is very valuable information that determines important decisions about their care.

I was fortunate to attend this workshop and have the opportunity to absorb as much knowledge as I could; moreover, I came home and share that knowledge with my fellow keepers. I was also fortunate to meet a group of fantastic elephant keepers from around the country, and even the world! Thanks to the Phoenix Elephant Crew for putting on such a wonderful workshop.

Come join us for our 17th annual Celebrating Elephants Day in memory of Pat Derby, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society. On May 17, you can listen to a lecture by keynote speaker, Ed Stewart, co-founder of Performing Welfare Society. While dining on wine and h’orderves, you will have the opportunity to bid on lovely auction items to help support the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya; a forty year research project led by world-renowned elephant researcher Cynthia Moss. For the family event, come out to Oakland Zoo for daytime fun on May 25, to see the elephants get their daily pedicure, watch Circus Finelli an animal free circus, get your face painted, and create special enrichment just for the elephants. For more details please visit our Celebrating Elephants page on www.oaklandzoo.org.

Recent Turtle Hatchings at the Oakland Zoo

by | February 5th, 2013

Spotted turtles are native to the Southeastern United States. They inhabit bogs (swamp like areas), but can also be found in fresh still water. The spotted turtle is endangered due to habitat loss and the constant threat of being collected and placed into the pet trade. However, we are lucky enough to have these little creatures hatching and thriving here at the Zoo and in other zoos around the country.

In the month of December, the Oakland Zoo welcomed a few more spotted turtles to the family, and another just last week on January 31, 2013. Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo Herp and Invert Keeper Adam Fink, fills us in about the most recent hatchlings as well as shares more facts about the spotted turtle.

A spotted turtle egg is about the size of a large grape, and unlike bird eggs that need to be rotated during incubation, reptile eggs must be kept in the same position as they were laid. This is because the embryo orients itself in the egg and turning the egg during this time could do much damage and kill the tiny turtle. Keepers are able to make an educated guess on whether the hatchling is male or female based on the temperature at which eggs are incubated. Females will result to warmer temperatures and males in cooler temperatures. “Like crocodilians, turtles can communicate to each other through the egg cases. This is why both species will have mass hatchings in the wild. The turtles or crocodilians will let each other know when they are ready to hatch and they all start hatching together. This is so that there is a better chance that at least some of the hatchlings will make it to the safety of the water,” says Adam.

Another interesting fact that Keeper Adam shared with us is that turtles, like all egg laying species, have egg yolks, which serve as nutrients for the developing embryo. However, unlike other eggs, the yolk is on the outside of the shell. The bottom of the shell has a small slit where the turtle comes out when ready to hatch. Once it hatches, the turtle will absorb the yolk sac, which in turn will close up that slit. If needed, the baby turtle can live off of the absorbed yolk for up to a few weeks.

Fink says the Oakland Zoo had about twenty spotted turtles hatch on site, with some continuing to live in our exhibit and some that have gone to join other zoos accredited by AZA, which is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Eight of the thirteen currently on exhibit have been born here at the Zoo.

Growing Up Oshy

by | October 31st, 2012

The time we’ve all been anticipating for years has finally arrived; Osh has now experienced his first musth. Bull elephants, both African and Asian, go through a period of heightened sexual and aggressive activity, or musth. Similar to that of a rut in hoofstock species, this is a period when bull elephants more actively compete for, seek out, and guard estrous females. Musth was first described in African Elephants in 1976 by elephant expert Joyce Poole and is characterized physically by stinky temporal

Osh, 18 years old, 10’3″ tall, 11,300 lbs.

drainage and swollen temporal glands, urine dribbling from the sheath, along with several specific distinct displays of behavior as well as heightened aggression toward other bulls. When a young bull goes into his first musth it generally only lasts for a few days or weeks as they come in and out of it. Bulls typically go into their first musth from the years of 18-25. At 18 years, standing at 10 feet 3 inches tall, and weighing in at 11,300 lbs, Osh seems to be experiencing similar patterns to that of the wild. Although catching the eye of the females will be much easier for him, since he won’t have any competition.  Older males with more experience can go into musth for up to several months, with the most successful breeding males in their forties. Females prefer musth males to non-musth males, although those not in musth may also breed successfully. About a week prior to being official we noticed an increased amount of temporal drainage from Osh’s temporal glands. We continued to observe heavy temporal drainage with a specific musky odor, which was followed by a wet sheath and a small amount of urine dribbling. Throughout the next two weeks we continued to observe these physical changes, sometimes the urine dribbling heavier, completely wetting down the insides of Osh’s legs. These are physical changes you can look for if you see him on exhibit. As of yet, we have not noted any dramatic behavioral changes which may change as time goes on. This is a very interesting time for the elephants as well as the keepers as we witness Osh go through a new chapter in his life.

Solid Support for Yes on Measure A1

by | October 25th, 2012

I have been an Oakland Zoo Docent for 1 ½ years, have a zoo membership, and am proud to support the Zoo and Measure A1. As a volunteer, I have witnessed the enjoyment of all zoo visitors as well the educational programs it provides. To be clear, Measure A1 is a not about expanding the zoo. It is a $1 per month parcel tax that will allow the zoo to continue to maintain its superior animal care and extend educational programs throughout Alameda County. This measure should not be confused with the project that was previously approved in 2011 by Oakland Parks & Recreation, Planning Commission and the Oakland City Council which included construction of a new, state-of-the-art veterinary hospital which is near completion. These approval agencies and the Alameda County Superior Court judge all determined the zoo had met the requirements to proceed with a project that will benefit hundreds of thousands of zoo visitors. The Zoo is proud that Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the Humane Society of the United States, as well as local education and animal rights advocates support A1. Other supporters are: 1) the East Bay Regional Park District, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, Sheila Jordan, and School Superintendents in every city of the County due to the critically needed environmental education it provides children, and 2) animal care organizations, including the Ventana Wildlife Society, the Felidae Conservation Fund/Bay Area Puma Project, and leading Veterinarians due to A1’s goal to provide humane animal care. These supporters understand the intention behind A1 and how the funds will be used. Please join me and others in support of one of Oakland’s leading cultural, educational, and animal care organizations by voting Yes on Measure A1.

— Ann Thomas, Oakland Zoo Docent