Archive for the ‘ZooKeepers’ Category

Appreciate Your Zoo Keepers!

by | July 25th, 2013

Keeper-Jeff margaretrousserEach year, the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) declares a National Zoo Keeper Appreciation Week. The idea behind it is to honor animal care professionals and their contributions to conservation while increasing public awareness about preserving our precious habitats and natural resources.

Zoo Keeping is one of the most physically demanding jobs a person can have, but it also one of the most rewarding! Zoo keepers work in all weather conditions, weekends, holidays and sometimes even overnight. The animals do not stop needing care just because it is Thanksgiving, or during a hurricane. Many of us have stayed up all night caring for a critically ill bear, feeding an orphaned squirrel monkey, or observing a new mother otter with her first litter. My personal record is 36 hours straight of animal care. You would be hard pressed to find a group of more dedicated people than you would in a zoo’s animal care department.

EricaZoo Keepers also work very closely with many of the other departments in the Zoo. Here are a few of the things they have to say about the keepers at the Oakland Zoo:

“I have never experienced such a dedicated and loyal staff that puts Oakland Zoo’s animal care first. The animal care staff is representative of what it means to love the job you’re in. I am proud of, and to be associated with, such knowledgeable and professional folks.” Nancy Filippi Managing Director of Operations.

“Keepers, you don’t care for gibbons and chimps, you care for Niko and Caramia, you care for each individual animal that is in your care, with all their unique issues, their unique likes and dislikes. You tap into what brings each animal happiness and health and deliver with love.” Amy Gotliffe, Director of Conservation

Keeper Ashley“I’m always looking for ways to promote Oakland Zoo stories to the public. Often times, I am asking a lot of questions and bugging zookeepers for details about the animals they manage and most the time they think I’m crazy, is my guess. But, those nuggets of information help me grab the media’s attention. I’m so appreciative for the little details zookeepers give me. Their jobs are fascinating and I ALWAYS learn new things about animals each time I bring a reporter or film crew to a location. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of cocktail trivia about animals. Being out in the zoo with zookeepers is usually a definite perk to my job at the Zoo. Kudos to our zookeepers. You work so hard and we appreciate all you do for the animals at Oakland Zoo.” Nicky Mora, Senior Manager of Marketing

Adam-Z“I appreciate the keepers because they do awesome work and serve a tremendous purpose. And, while I get to spend 95% of my time in a heated or air-conditioned office, the keepers do it all, rain or shine (and 98% percent of the time they smile doing it). I’m in considerable awe of their talent and dedication.” John Lemanski, Director of Human Resources

“We have dedicated zoo keepers and are truly blessed to have dozens of staff members that work day in and day out with our diverse collection of animals. Many of the animal species featured throughout Oakland Zoo are ambassadors to animals in the wild that are in danger or at risk of becoming extinct. Our Zoo Keepers are advocates for the animals they care for and they strive to make the public aware of issues facing those same animals in the wild. We work really hard at spreading the message of conservation and our keepers play an integral role in that process.” Dr. Joel Parrott, President and CEO of Oakland Zoo

Dannielle“National Zoo Keeper Week is an opportunity for us to acknowledge Keepers for what they do and thank them for the care they continue to provide our animals at Oakland Zoo. One of the core beliefs our Keepers all embody is educating the public about pets, specifically which animals do and do not make good pets. Besides educating the public about the animals, our keepers go to great lengths to provide the most natural and enriching environment for the creatures in their care. Not only do the animals benefit from the creative ideas, all of the keepers share their successes and new ways to keep animals stimulated. We all learn from each other and no day working with animals is ever the same.” Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research

Hidden Treats: The Fun Diet of an Oakland Zoo Sun Bear

by | June 18th, 2013

zena-the-zookeeperHey kids! Zena the Zookeeper here. Welcome to my cool new blog! Now you can read about my awesome zookeeping adventures at Oakland Zoo online.

Sun-bear-with-tongue-out_web You know what I love best about being a zookeeper? No, it’s NOT all the poop I have to shovel. What I love best is taking care of the sun bears. They’re so fun to watch, especially when they’re moving around their exhibit, searching and sniffing, climbing and clawing to find their food.

In case you didn’t already know, our bears are omnivorous (om-NIV-er-us). That means they eat a variety of food—meat as well as veggies, just like you do (okay, maybe with the exception of the meal worms!) And here at Oakland Zoo, we like to give them as much variety as possible. Here’s some of the fun food treats that the bears get every day:

  • SWEET MIX: made up of popcorn, dates, peanuts, raisins, coconut and Fruit Loops (the only cereal they like.)
  • FRUIT & VEGETABLES: like grapes, pineapple, melon and yams to make sure the bears have a well-balanced diet, which is as important for animals as it is for kids.
  • HOMEMADE RICE CAKES: cooked and mixed with fun flavors such as almond, coconut or maple syrup
  • PEANUT BUTTER: mixed with other treats, or big dabs of it on tree trunks, or leftover jars from home for them to lick clean with their long tongues.
  • MEAL WORMS: yummy crawly treats like the ones wild bears find in rotten tree trunks

But I don’t just toss this stuff in a bowl on the kitchen floor like you do with your pets at home. I hide it inside all kinds of fun containers that I put around the exhibit for the bears to find and explore with their tongues and claws, such as:

  • PLASTIC DRINK BOTTLES with grapes or raisins inside
  • HARD PLASTIC PLUMBING PIPES with holes drilled in them for getting at the treats
  • HOLLOW BAMBOO STALKS stuffed with small treats
  • PINE CONES smeared with sticky treats like peanut butter or honey
  • HOLLOW PLASTIC PET TOYS filled with treats and frozen into popsicles
  • HARD PLASTIC BOOMER BALLS I smear peanut butter or jam on the outside for them to lick off  

I bet your meals at home aren’t this much fun. But your mom probably has enough work to do already, don’t you think? Luckily, I’ve got a lot of helpers here at the Zoo.

ZENA’S QUICK QUESTION: How many sun bears do we have at Oakland Zoo and what are their names?

The next time you come to the Zoo, be sure to check out the bear exhibit and you’ll find out the answer. Also, if you want to check in on the sun bears from home, did you know you can watch Oakland Zoo’s Sun Bear Cam? Here’s a link to it: http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Sun_Bear_Cam.php

You’ll also see how much fun it is to be an Oakland Zoo sun bear. Well, that’s all for now. This is Zena the Zookeeper saying “See you next time!

Chimps need YOU!

by | June 12th, 2013
Oakland Zoo Chimpanzee

Oakland Zoo Chimpanzee

In 2011, a petition was started by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  The petition requested that the United States Fish and Wildlife (USFW) agency reconsider its listing of chimpanzees under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  At that time, Oakland Zoo put out a call to action from our members – and it worked!  This week, the USFW agency announced its proposal to reevaluate their listing!  This great news, but it is not a done deal.  The agency will take comments on the act from the public for the next 60 days and we need YOU to stand up for chimpanzees again!

Under current listing, wild chimpanzees are listed as endangered, giving them a significant amount of protection under U.S. law.  Captive chimpanzees are a different story.  They are listed as “threatened,” a much lesser designation with significantly fewer protections.  Chimpanzees are the only species that is double listed this way under the law and it is time for that to change.  Please show your support for chimpanzees by commenting in agreement with this changed designation.

Here’s How:

Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R9–ES–2010–0086, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!” If your comments will fit in the provided comment box, please use this feature of http://www.regulations.gov, as it is most compatible with  our comment review procedures. If you attach your comments as a separate document, our preferred file format is Microsoft Word. If  you attach multiple comments (such as form letters), our preferred format is a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel

New Baboon Troop at Oakland Zoo

by | May 28th, 2013

In January of this year, Oakland Zoo received four new Hamadryas Baboons. We received a male named Martijn with his three females, Maya, Maud, and Krista. They range in age from seven years to sixteen years. They came to us from the Netherlands. During their relocation journey, they had to spend forty-five days in CDC quarantine, Center for Disease Control, at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Once at the zoo, Martijn and his females spent another thirty days of quarantine at Oakland Zoo’s New Veterinary Hospital. After a clean bill of health from the veterinarians, the troop were allowed to go to their new home at Baboon Cliffs.

Before letting the new baboons go out on exhibit, they had to get familiar with the night-house and Rafi’s group (older baboon troop residing at zoo). This troop consists of Rafi, the harem male, with his three females; Jennifer, Violet, and Dink. Introducing a new troop to the current baboon residents was going to be a big change. Martijn’s group adjusted well to their new night-house. They were not able to share space with Rafi’s group, but could see them. This is called Howdying; it lets the animals get use to each other without the risk of getting hurt. The process also allowed both males to see that the other male has females. Traditionally, Hamadryas Baboons will respect the other male’s females and not try to take them once they are introduced.

After about two weeks, it was time for the baboons to be introduced. First, they had fence to fence access to each other. This means they could only touch each other through the caging. This went well with only minor aggression between the two groups. The males acted in the manner that was expected. They show possession of their females by herding them about the exhibit. The harem males will sometimes show  affiliation towards each other by lip-smacking to one another. They will also approach each other, show their hind quarters to each other, then quickly walk away. You may see this behavior out on exhibit, which happens naturally in the wild. Chasing may also occur between the two males over choice spaces in the exhibit, like a sunny log or a shaddy platform. The males do not groom each other, like you will see the females do. The females are more relaxed and will groom a female from the other harem. There is no dominant male. The males are only dominant over their females in their harem.

baby-baboonWhile Martijn and his females were at the CDC, we received exciting news that one of the females was pregnant. Oakland Zoo had not had a baby baboon in many years. The gestation of baboons is 170 days or five months. Maya had her baby on April 9. She gave birth overnight without complications and by morning had a clean little black bundle clinging to her belly. Baboons give birth at night, so they have time to rest before they have to start foraging or interacting with the other troops. The infant will cling to the mother’s chest and nurse in that position for about five weeks. At around five or six weeks, the infant will start trying to ride on the mother’s back. At two to three weeks, the infant begins to walk. Maya’s infant, Mocha, took her first step at around two weeks. Now at six weeks, Mocha is able to clumsily run about and climb on logs. Mocha stays close to her mother, and Maya is always ready to grab her if she feels Mocha is in danger. It will be another two months before Mocha starts to venture farther from the safety of her mother.

Baboon teeth start to come in at five days old and at three weeks Mocha had eight incisors. It was at that time that Mocha started teething on anything that she could put in her mouth, like twigs, leaves, and food her mother was eating. At one month, the babies start to eat solid food. Mocha has not mastered the art of bringing food to her mouth, so she bends over and takes little bites out of vegetables that are on the ground.

Mocha-6-weeksThe mother baboon takes care of the infant with no help from the father. Other females in the harem will offer the baby a ride on their backs and will sometimes try to hold the infant, but if the infant vocalizes, the mother is there to quickly take the infant back. Krista, one of Martijn’s other females, has shown interest in little Mocha and often offers her back for a ride or tries to hold Mocha. At her age, Mocha is full of energy and unless she is sleeping or nursing, she wants to be free to explore her exhibit.

Mocha has many more milestones ahead of her. She will stay with her mother for about ten months. At that time, her baby black hair will have turned brown, no longer signaling she is an infant. At this time, her mother will also start to push her away. She will still be able to stay with the troop, but she will no longer get to nurse or have free rides on her mother’s back. It will be time for Mocha to find her place within the troop.

Please note, you can observe some of the behaviors mentioned in this blog by visiting Oakland Zoo’s Baboon Cliffs.

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.