Archive for the ‘ZooKeepers’ Category

Moments of the Day: Celebrating elephants everyday!

by | May 14th, 2014

 

Lisa dusting. One of my favorite behaviors to observe. Photo by author.

Lisa dusting. One of my favorite behaviors to observe. Photo by author.

If you had asked me ten years ago where I saw myself today, I probably would have told you sledding with huskies in Alaska or tracking down wolves in Yellowstone . . . after all wolves were my first love and that would have been my dream job at the time. Although they still have a place in my heart, African Elephants trumped those mysterious and elusive carnivores long ago. After my first day as an intern here at Oakland Zoo, I knew I was where I belonged and that was nine years ago.

There are so many things that make my job special . . . the first obviously is that I am privileged to work with these majestic

African elephants love to mud! Oshy doing a great job! Photo by author.

African elephants love to mud! Oshy doing a great job! Photo by author.

and profound giants.  At the end of the day I’m exhausted . . . the job isn’t glamour and all fun like everyone may think it is. The majority of our day is spent cleaning up poop, moving bales of hay, loading tree branches, and feeding. It’s a dirty job but I wouldn’t have it any other way and I’m now more of a tomboy then I’ve ever been (coming from the girl that grew up with Barbie). There’s something special that happens on a daily basis that I like to call “the moment of the day”. The elephants teach me something new all the time, a constant reminder of why they are so extraordinary and why I am here to stay.

 

My favorite “moments of the day” with Donna, Lisa, Osh, and M’Dunda:

  • Did you know that elephants yawn? I don’t see this very often, but sometimes at night and early morning, I get to see a stretched trunk and yawn, one of
    M'Dunda yawns and stretches, the only time I've captured this on film! Photo by author.

    M’Dunda yawns and stretches, the only time I’ve captured this on film! Photo by author.

    my very favorite behaviors.

  • In moments of protectiveness or just sweetness, Donna will drape her trunk over Lisa’s head or body.
  • Elephants use “tools” to help themselves. M’Dunda and Donna will pick up sticks to scratch their ears. Osh will stand on a log to reach a pumpkin hanging up high in a hay net.
  • As part of their greeting ceremony, the females will rumble, throw their ears out, heighten their heads, then urinate and defecate simultaneously.
  • Donna enjoys her time “sunning”. Just today I saw her drift off into a cat nap soaking up the sun.
  • M’Dunda snores!
  • Lisa and Donna love to sleep together, and sometimes with their behinds touching.
  • Sometimes they all get something stuck up their trunks and will contort the base of their trunk in a funny way, just like when we scrunch our faces.
  • Lisa will flip upside down in the pool and scoot her body around with all four feet in the air!
  • Last week, Osh dropped a caterpillar out of his trunk!
  • They all like to scratch their sides and bellies on the rocks.
  • Donna especially enjoys tactile touch and walks through her hanging enrichment every day.

The list could go on and on.

Donna loves touch and enjoys draping her "firehose octopus" over her body. Photo by author.

Donna loves touch and enjoys draping her “firehose octopus” over her body. Photo by author.

Second most importantly, Oakland Zoo allows me to be directly involved in conservation. Through WCS’s 96 elephants campaign (www.96elephants.org) we are getting youth involved, signing petitions, and increasing awareness of the ivory trade. This is a brand new campaign that started in late 2013, symbolic for the 96 elephants a day that are being poached in Africa for their tusks (see my blog for more information, http://www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2014/02/10/96-a-day-96-await/). We also recently began supporting a local grassroots organization, March for Elephants, that we marched with through San Francisco last year to raise awareness of the ivory trade. This passionate army of volunteers dedicate endless hours of their time and are dedicated to promoting global awareness about the elephant crisis, advocating for cessation of poaching in all regions where elephants live, and fiercely working to shut down the ivory trade. Please visit their website (www.marchforelephants.org) for more info and join us in the upcoming march on October 4th!

Girls just want to have fun. Donna throwing her tire around at night. Photo by author.

Girls just want to have fun. Donna throwing her tire around at night. Photo by author.

For the last eighteen years we have been the proud supporters of Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya.  Through our Celebrating Elephants Events (check out www.oaklandzoo.org/Events.php), we have been raising advocacy awareness (for both captivity and the ivory trade), through the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of visitors. To date we have raised over 250,000 dollars which goes directly to Amboseli to protect the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park through their forty year research project. Celebrating Elephants is a lot of work and it takes a great team to pull it off, but in the end it’s more than worth it knowing that we are working to protect what elephants remain in the wild. Knowing that we had a hand in making even the smallest change for one elephant or 450,000 is conservation at its finest. So please come join us on May 17th  (evening event) with special guest speaker Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist at Amboseli Trust, and May 24th (day event) . . . learn a lot about elephants and the way we manage them here at the zoo, see an animal-free circus, get your face painted, and eat cotton candy . . . all in the name of elephants!

Celebrating Elephants in 2014: A Sneak Peak

by | April 18th, 2014
All elephants are individuals and have very unique personalities. This is M'Dundamella, 45 years old with long beautiful tusks.

All elephants are individuals and have very unique personalities. This is M’Dundamella, 45 years old with long beautiful tusks.

Did you know that the elephant heart weighs 40-60 pounds and beats 30 times a minute? Did you know that the brain weighs 11 pounds and has a highly complex neocortex, a trait also shared by humans, apes, and dolphins? Did you realize that elephants exhibit a wide array of emotions and behaviors such as grief, learning, allomothering, mimicry, play, altruism, tool-use, compassion, cooperation, and self-awareness? These are just a few important facts about why we should care about elephants and why we need to fight for their survival. Advocacy, education, and conservation are key concepts to protecting elephants and this is what Oakland Zoo is all about!!

We would like to invite you to our 18th annual Celebrating Elephants events, on May 17th and 24th. All of the proceeds of these two days go directly to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya, to protect the elephant herds in Amboseli National Park. ATE’s forty year research project, founded by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss, has made many important contributions to elephant research and the knowledge gained has profoundly altered the way we think about, conserve, and manage elephant populations. Their research has highlighted the ethical implications of dealing with sentient, long-lived, intelligent, and socially complex animals and their knowledge base provides powerful and authoritative support to elephant conservation and advocacy campaigns worldwide.

A sneak peak into the Amboseli elephants . . .

AAs_drinking_copy

The AA family drinking. The first identified herd of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in 1972.

Besides tail hair length, tusk length, and size (all changing characteristics) elephants are typically identified by the notches, holes, rips, and tears in their ears, most of which are caused by walking through thorny brush. At Amboseli, elephants are identified by these ear notches and named and categorized by the alphabet, most often, unless a truly unique characteristic defines them. Therefore, the first family Cynthia Moss studied were known as the AA’s on September 1st, 1972, the very first day of the study. From that day, over forty years of observations and data has been collected on them and many other herds. Elephants are extremely social and live in fission-fusion matriarchal societies, constantly joining together and breaking apart depending on environmental conditions and available resources. Sometimes, when conditions are optimal elephants will form what is known as an aggregation and come together to socialize, play, touch, rest, drink, mud, dust, and eat. These aggregations typically average 300-400 individuals, but Cynthia has counted as many as 550 at one time! Read up about more Amboseli elephants here, http://www.elephanttrust.org/.

 

Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist at Amboseli, will speak about her studies at our evening event and silent auction on May 17th.

To learn more about these magnificent, majestic beings join us Saturday evening on May 17th, for a special presentation by Dr. Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist for the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Dr. Fishlock joined the research team in 2011 to study the social resilience of female elephants following a devastating drought in 2009. She will share some of her findings in her ongoing research looking at the fascinating social dynamics in the lives of female elephants, and how these individual relationships shape the success of families. She will explain how age, experience, and leadership influence the survival of calves and families in the sometimes difficult life of an elephant. Come hear stories of success and struggle of the magnificent elephants of the Amboseli Plains. The lecture will be followed by a wonderful reception including drink and appetizers, amongst a lovely silent auction, so get ready to bid! Here’s a link to more details about the event http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=800.

 

 

Join us the following Saturday, May 24th, for a day of fun and celebrating how special elephants are!

Keeper Gina working with African elephant

Keeper Gina working with African elephant

Family friendly activities will include exciting elephant stations such as touching gigantic elephant bones, making treat boxes for the elephants to eat, holding an eleven pound tooth, and stepping into an elephant-sized footprint. Grab binoculars and participate in a mock research camp where observers are invited to watch and record behaviors, and they can learn how to identify our elephants! Also watch the amazingly talented Circus Finelli, an animal free circus. And don’t forget to experience the once-a-year opportunity behind the scenes to see where the elephants sleep, watch an elephant pedicure, and see how the zookeepers train with them to conduct their husbandry care. This day is also an important opportunity for the staff to explain the differences of elephant management and why you shouldn’t go to or support the circus.

This year Celebrating Elephants will be in honor of Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants campaign, named for the 96 elephants that are poached in Africa every day for their tusks.  In December of 2013 Oakland Zoo officially teamed up with the campaign to take action in helping fight the illegal ivory trade through public awareness and taking action through California legislation to change policy against selling and trading ivory.

Read my blog (http://www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/author/ggambertoglio/) or go to our website to find out more details on the campaign and how you can help!

Welcome Oakland Zoo's new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society's 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.

Welcome Oakland Zoo’s new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.

 

Make Mine Chocolate!

by | April 15th, 2014

Rescued Rabbit, Photo credit: Steve Gordon

Spring has sprung and it is my favorite time of the year! I love the trees, the grass, and flowers. I don’t even mind the pollen, well, not much anyway. Of course, one of my favorite things about this time of year is the Easter candy. I have always been partial to the Cadbury bunny! After all, who can resist a cute little fluffy bunny that lays chocolate eggs?

Apparently, I am not the only one. Each year thousands children awaken on Easter morning delighted to find furry or fuzzy little creatures in their Easter baskets. However children, as we all know, have very short attention spans and by May animal shelters across the country are overrun with abandoned Easter Bunnies, fuzzy little baby chicks, and tiny ducklings. Even worse, many animals are simply turned loose to fend for themselves. In fact, our own rabbits right here at the Oakland Zoo, were domestic pets that had been turned loose at a local college and started breeding, quickly overpopulating the small area and pushing out local wildlife. Five volunteers from the Oakland Animal Services spent all summer catching the rabbits to bring them to get medical care.

These rabbits were lucky, they wound up here at the zoo where they get all the food, water, fresh grass and chew toys they want. But, I will never forget the scene at the animal shelter the first day that I went to meet our potential rabbits. The room at the shelter was stacked to the ceiling with rabbit cages, all of them full. There was also a small makeshift play area set up in the middle of the room that was being used to house more rabbits, and then I discovered that even more rabbits were being housed in foster homes! I went to the animal shelter intending to adopt 5 rabbits, I left with 10. I wish I had been able to provide homes for more of them, but sadly, we do have limited space. I truly admire the people at the shelter who work so hard to care for these abandoned and neglected animals.

Another great organization that cares for abandoned bunnies is the House Rabbit Society (HRS). Last year, HRS began their “Make Mine Chocolate” campaign which teaches people about responsible pet ownership and making good choices. They highlight the special needs of these fragile little creatures and educate people about the hazards of “casual” pet acquisition. The truth is that rabbits are delicate little beings that require time, space and money to properly care for them. Rabbits often have a lifespan of 10 years, and it is irresponsible to acquire a pet unless you plan to make a commitment for the entire life time of the animal. They also need attention, regular exercise and a balanced diet, just like any other pet. Rabbits can be great companions, but it is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
I still love the Cadbury bunny! This year, I will be thrilled to “Make Mine Chocolate!”

Bunny rescued by the Oakland Zoo after being abandoned by his owners.

Oakland Zoo Takes Action for California Condor Recovery

by | April 14th, 2014

On March 25, 2014 young California condor #646 began her journey into the wild. This release was extra special, because, for the first time, a live condor reintroduction was visible to the world on “Condor Cam.” Many thanks to FedEx and Camzone, who helped Oakland Zoo install the camera in such a remote location! Condor #646 joins more than 200 other wild condors that are now able to fly free in the Western skies.

#646 flying out of the pen and into the wild

#646 flying out of the pen and into the wild

While #646’s journey will certainly be miraculous, it will not be without potential perils.  She has already met and been accepted by her flock, and soon thereafter survived adverse rainy and cold weather conditions.  Fortunately, she has yet to meet her most dangerous adversary: lead. Despite a ban on lead ammunition within the range of the California condor that took effect in 2008, lead has continued to poison and kill numerous California condors each year.

This year, however, Oakland Zoo Veterinary and Animal Care staff members are ready to help the condors in their struggle with lead toxicosis. Since 2012, we have worked hard to obtain the necessary permits to house condors, and built and equipped the Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center. Additionally, multiple trips both into the field and to the Los Angeles Zoo to train with biologists and condor keepers have given us the skills necessary to provide state-of-the-art care to sick and injured condors.

Our location in Northern California makes us ideally positioned to treat birds from the Big Sur area of the coast, and the inland area of Pinnacles National Park. This geographical position is likely to be critical to the condors’ survival. Before 2014, every sick condor was transported in a modified dog kennel to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment – an approximately 6 hour drive. Now, driving time (and thus time to beginning treatment) will be reduced to 2-3 hours.

photo 3

Oakland Zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Andrea Goodnight treating a condor

When a condor arrives at the Zoo, it undergoes a specific diagnostic and treatment program. An x-ray of each bird is taken to determine if large lead fragments are present and document the locations of the fragments. Every day for 5 days, each condor receives an injection of a chelating agent that binds the lead and carries it out of the bird’s bloodstream. Additionally, the birds are given subcutaneous fluids for supportive care and fed regularly for optimum nutrition. We handle each bird for less than 20 minutes a day in order to minimize stress. After 5 days, a blood sample is drawn to determine the bird’s blood lead level. The birds undergo 5 day rounds of treatment until the blood lead level is below the target value; at that time they are released back into the wild!

We are extremely proud and excited to be part of such an important  conservation effort. Make sure to check out the Zoo’s website often – you may see some of the condors in our treatment facility!

And come to our next Conservation Speaker series event, all about saving the California Condor. Learn how the joint efforts of U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Ventana Wildlife Society, Pinnacles National Park, Oakland Zoo, and other zoos and environmental organizations in the Western U.S. are saving the 218 California condors now soaring in the wild.

 

 

 

Leaping Lemurs!

by | March 25th, 2014
ringtails

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.

Eugene

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.

DSC_0047

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.