Just say Let Me Think Critically for a Moment to Palm Oil – In Preparation for Valentines Day
by | January 28th, 2016

The issue with palm oil is complex and evolving. It is true, forests have been devastated by the clearing of habitat in order to plant the oil palm plant, a plant grown commercially in rain-forests primarily in Borneo and Sumatra. These forests were home to tigers, sun bears, elephants and orangutans. Tragically, the industry poses a threat to these and other species, as much of it uses deforestation practices that are destructive to these animals’ delicate habitat. Ten years ago, biologists and environmentalistzoo grounds green signs 029ts were all encouraging a complete ban of the plant. It would be nice if it were that simple.

Endangered Sun Bear

Endangered Sun Bear

Palm oil is now in over 50 % of packaged goods like food, cosmetics and soap. According to most of the same biologists and environmentalists, it is here to stay, and is now best to use your purchasing choices as power to drive sustainable and responsible practices.

Responsible palm oil is produced without contributing to rain forest or peat land destruction, species extinction, greenhouse gas emissions or human rights abuses. Food manufacturing companies need transparent and traceable supply chains from the plantation where the palm oil was sourced to the final product on your grocery store shelf. There should also be requirements around what palm oil is called on the label, as there are currently dozens of acceptable names that lead to further confusion.

lableOn a bright note, there has also been much progress in awareness and positive action. Many organizations are doing their share to encourage industry change and increase public outreach. The Round-table for Sustainable Palm Oil is a start on the road to doing right, but it is our hope that the standards are increased for companies that produce, trade and use palm oil.

Individual actions truly matter when it comes to helping those sun bears, tigers and orangutans. You can help by reading labels when you shop. Choose products that don’t use palm oil (Palmitic acid, Palm kernel oil, Palm kernel) or that opt to use sustainable “orangutan friendly” palm oil. Explore companies that are part of the Round-table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and learn all you can about this complicated conservation issue.

 

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This Valentine’s Day season and every day, use the following lists and smart phone apps to help you be sweet to the beautiful animals that will survive only if humans stop, learn and think critically.

  • Purchase items that do not use palm oil or that use sustainable palm oil only
  • Support companies that have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) by downloading the Palm Oil Shopping Guide for iPhones and Android smartphones. You can also download this cool Palm Oil Fact Sheet for kids too
  • Use your power as a consumer: Write to your favorite restaurants and companies. Let them know that you care about orangutans, sun bears, gibbons and their rainforest home, and that your concern is reflected in products you are willing to buy. Ask them to join the RSPO if they haven’t done so already. We have a sample letter you can use for your convenience
  • Go see wild orangutans, sun bears, gibbons. Your tourist dollars make the rainforests worth more standing than cut down for plantations. Check out Hutan Project and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
  • Write to your local legislators and the President. Ask them not to explore palm oil as a biofuel option. Cutting down rainforests to grow palm oil is not a “green” substitute for gasoline
  • Write to Indonesian and Malaysian government officials. Ask them to preserve their precious natural resources. They are the only countries in the world that have wild orangutans!
  • Get involved in organizations that are purchasing land for conservation in affected areas
  • Learn more at http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Palm_Oil.php
Docent Training: Cultivating the Face of the Zoo
by | December 29th, 2015

docent with skeletal footBack in the 1980s when I was trying to get my first Zoo job, I dreamed up a clever, surefire plan: I was going to offer to work for the Zoo for FREE! I was sure I’d blow them away with my unheard-of generosity and be hired on the spot. Guess what? I didn’t realize that an organization like a zoo has hundreds of volunteers, and in fact couldn’t exist without them. Here at Oakland Zoo these volunteers work in a wide variety of capacities. One of the larger of these groups are the docents. These are the folks you see roaming the zoo, answering questions and giving directions. But their most important function is to teach the public about animals and conservation. Whether they’re leading a tour, staffing an interpretive station, or roaming about at large, the docents have a lot of ground to cover. And that goes double when it comes to the sheer amount of information they need to keep in their heads. Indeed, learning about each of the 145 animal species here at Oakland Zoo takes some doing.
This is where the Docent Training Class comes in. This annual fourteen week course wouldn’t be docents at tablepossible without a team of dedicated teachers and guest speakers. The majority of these speakers are Oakland Zoo animal keepers, whose years of experience and passion for their work make them ideal for the job. Despite their busy schedules, they’re always happy to take time out from their day to address the members of the docent class. They consider this time an investment, since docents make their jobs easier by working with the visiting public, ensuring understanding and respect for wildlife and the natural world.
The core curriculum of the class is taught by docents and instructors from the Zoo’s Education Department, and provides a foundation with basics such as physiology, reproduction, adaptations and taxonomy. The zookeepers serve to augment this curriculum. They typically do a Powerpoint presentation that deals with the specific animals under their care: how old they are and where they’re from; how many males and females in each exhibit, in addition to information about family trees, male-female pairings, and group behavioral dynamics. This biographical information “tells their story” and helps these prospective docents make a more personal connection with our animals, and by extension, helps the public do the same.
docents with feed bucketThese guest speakers also bring a wealth of outside experience to their jobs here at the Zoo, and their stories are a perennial source of inspiration for all our docents. They include people like Zoological Manager Margaret Rousser, a nine year Oakland Zoo veteran who traveled to Madagascar to work with lemurs, assisting local veterinarians in the field. Adam Fink, one of our resident reptile and amphibian keepers, worked as an environmental monitor with endangered toads in Arizona and in the San Diego area. Education Specialist Carol Wiegel works as a wildlife biologist for an environmental consulting company. She also volunteered in Northern Mexico where she studied desert tortoises. Bird keeper Leslie Storer has volunteered at animal re-hab centers as well as the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. And Colleen Kinzley, our Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, spent eight summers in East Africa, docent at QFC kioskworking with the Mushara Elephant Project of Namibia.
These dedicated individuals are just a small part of the team here at Oakland Zoo. If you or anyone you know has a passion for animals and enjoys working with the public, you might want to consider joining that team by volunteering as a docent at Oakland Zoo. In doing so, you’ll become part of a longstanding tradition of wildlife education and conservation. For more information on our docent training, please contact: Lisa O’Dwyer at lisa@oaklandzoo.org or Chantal Burnett at cburnett@oaklandzoo.org.

Understanding Flamingo Friendships: A Study on Social Networks using Oakland Zoo’s Flamingos
by | December 19th, 2015


When you pass through the main entrance of Oakland Zoo, the first species you are greeted by are the colorful and charismatic lesser flamingos. A favorite to many, zoos offer a chance for people to come and see species like these that they may never have had the means to see otherwise. It is through opportunities like these that zoos work to inspire people to learn about and act to save threatened animals. However, an additional goal of the zoo that many visitors may not be aware of occurs behind-the-scenes and that is to be a site for animal behavior and welfare research that might otherwise be impossible to complete.

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Oakland Zoo’s flock of lesser flamingos. Photo by Natasha Tworoski

Doctoral candidate Paul Rose of the University of Exeter reached out to zoos worldwide to create a photo database to decipher how important individual relationships are between members of a flamingo flock. Since zoos use numbered ID bands to keep track of individuals in their collection and we can get much closer to our captive flock than a researcher would be able to a wild one, zoo flamingos offer a great alternative for a study like this. Something that makes our Oakland Zoo flock particularly special? All 16 members are males, which may or may not have an effect on how our birds form relationships.

For six months, Oakland Zoo keepers took pictures of our flamingos three times a day, four days a week to send to Paul for analysis. While this information is valuable from both a theoretical and conservation standpoint, it can also be useful information to those of us caring for the individuals. Like all of us, sometimes our flamingos can get sick or have minor injuries which requires them to spend some time at our zoo’s hospital while they mend. Being social animals, we always make sure to send a few extra flamingos with, so the patient feels more comfortable while he heals. Knowing who is friends with whom among our flamingo flock makes us better zookeepers and prevents us from breaking up important relationships that are a natural part of their life cycle.

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ID bands are placed on the legs of Oakland Zoo’s flamingos to make it easier for zookeepers to track individuals. Photo by Natasha Tworoski.

While Paul will be continuing to collect more data before drawing any conclusions on flamingo relationships, we asked him to share with you a description of his study and why he is asking the questions he is about flamingo friendships. Meanwhile, the keepers may need to consider if they should trade out the numbered ID bands for friendship bracelets.

-Zookeeper Natasha

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Paul Rose, flamingo researcher collaborating with Oakland Zoo.

I have been conducting zoo research since completing my undergraduate thesis in 2002, and have always been keen to learn more about zoo animal welfare and how to improve the lives of animals housed in the zoo. I have had a special interest in husbandry and management of giraffe and flamingos, as these can be often “overlooked” in the world of research and scientific investigation. As a member of the UK’s zoo research committee, I help to advise the Bird Working Group. As well as “in zoo” groups, I also have a role on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group and on the Flamingo Specialist Group. I have been investigating the social lives of flamingo since 2012. As one of the commonest of zoo-housed animals, flamingos are an excellent candidate for research into how captivity affects animal behaviour, as the results of such studies have wide application to many hundreds of individuals. Alongside of this PhD work, I also teach university students in animal behaviour and welfare, and conservation.

Flamingos are one of the world’s most gregarious animals. Flocks numbering over two million birds have been recorded, suggesting that relationships between individual flamingos may be important and may have a role in flock structure. It is important to note that gregarious and social can be two different things, and a defined social structure could be missing from these large flock of birds. By defined social structure, think about the hierarchy and highly structured relationships that exist in a troop of gorillas, for example. Research on wild flamingos has posed the following question; because all six flamingo species occur in potentially highly coordinated, highly social groupings, maybe more is drawing them together than simply access to resources found in only one place? The complex displays of the flamingo, as well as its bright colours and range of vocalisations that the birds appear to use to organise themselves, are suggestive of a complex and highly-ordered society where individuals have a specific role or function within the flock.

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Flamingos feeding together in the water on exhibit. Photo by Colleen Renshaw.

Like the fission-fusion systems seen in some primates, for example baboons, flocks of flamingos move around in smaller groups that come together when the whole flock needs to perform specific actions as a collective (for example when travelling, courtship display and nesting). Such bonded birds often file around after each other or move together in parallel, demonstrating the strength of their partnership. A useful metric to use is a flamingo’s neck length. If one bird allows another into this space, it is suggestive of a stronger, more important relationship. By watching a flock of resting or preening flamingos, it is easy to spot these smaller friendship groups based on the distances relative to each other when compared to other groups within the same flock.

Observing flamingos within a zoological collection can add vital, new information to our grasp of what may be going on in wild flocks, and enhance our knowledge of a flamingo’s friends and relationships. Large groups of flamingos provide a natural setting for close-up documentation of connections between birds. The flamingo flock is a soap opera of arguments, fallings-out, squabbles, marriages, divorces and cliques. New scientific techniques, developed in the field of human psychology can provide a deeper understanding of how these aspects of flock activity play out and affect the fortunes of each individual bird. Termed “social network analysis” these methods provide a pictorial overview of the connections that each bird has, to others, in the group that it lives. By assessing such connections, we can de termine who influences the decisions that individuals make in a flock as well as understanding the quality of life each bird experiences (and how this quality of life is influenced by the birds that it lives with). The lives of wild flamingos can be tricky to follow, although there are some long-running projects out there on wild birds, so by watching the behaviour of captive birds, we get a good idea of how and why flamingo social behaviour works in the way that it does.

Lesser flamingos are considered to be a “Near Threatened” species by the world’s conservation union. They are in trouble in their natural environment due to human pressures on their unique habitat. Zoo-housed lesser flamingos can tell us a great deal about the ecology of the species overall, and if strong relationships exist between captive birds, this may be suggestive of a much more stable, much more structured social system in wild flocks too. Therefore it would be important to manage the long-term environment for lesser flamingos so that when birds move around, and move around with their friends, they are able to be in the same place at the same time and do the same thing as those other birds that they prefer to associate with.

-Paul Rose

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Paul is collecting data from zoos across the globe in order to better understand how these birds form friendships.

 

National Bison Day – November 7, 2015
by | November 3rd, 2015

On Saturday, November 7, 2015, people across the United States and Canada will be rallying to support conservation activity for Bison – North America’s largest land mammal. Their goal? Ecological restoration of vibrant Bison herds to their natural ranges in a scientific and socially responsible way, the appointment of the American Bison as our National Mammal, and establishment of the second Saturday of November as National Bison Day in perpetuity. How can you help? Vote Bison!

 

Some information about the American Bison from our partners at the Wildlife Conservation Society:

THE ICONIC BISON

Bison became a symbol of U.S. frontier culture as the massive herds inspired awe in western explorers and sustained early settlers and traders. Bison were integrally linked with the economic, physical and spiritual lives of Native Americans and were central to their sustenance, trade, ceremonies and religious rituals. Men and women from all walks of life, including ranchers, Native Americans, and industrialists, joined President Theodore Roosevelt in a monumental effort to save bison from extinction in 1905. This grassroots campaign to save bison on small refuges in Oklahoma, Montana, and South Dakota served as the world’s first successful wildlife restoration effort.

 

Bison continue to be an American icon. They are profiled on coins, depicted on the Department of the Interior’s seal and featured on logos of sports teams, businesses and academic institutions nationwide. Three states have even designated bison as their official state mammal or animal.

BISON TODAY

Bison continue to sustain and provide cultural value to Native Americans and Indian Tribes. More than 60 tribes are working to restore bison to over 1,000,000 acres of Indian lands in places like South Dakota, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Additionally, 2014 marked the historic signing of the “Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty,” establishing intertribal alliances for cooperation in the restoration of bison on Tribal/First Nations Reserves and comanaged lands within the U.S. and Canada.

 

They are also an important animal in many sectors of modern American life. Today, American Bison live in all 50 states. Herds provide enjoyment and education to millions of visitors who recreate in America’s great outdoors. Tourists eager to view both public and private bison herds contribute to the economies of rural communities. More than 2,500 privately-owned bison ranches in the U.S. are creating jobs, providing a sustainable and healthy meat source, and contributing to our nation’s food security.

VOTE BISON

Oakland Zoo is asking the public to “Vote Bison” by urging Members of Congress to co-sponsor the National Bison Legacy Act. This act would make bison the United States’ National Mammal, a symbol that will become an American icon, like the bald eagle. To Vote Bison and establish National Bison Day as a permanent day, go to: www.VoteBison.org

After voting, come to Oakland Zoo on Saturday, November 7th to get your “Vote Bison” button, and to visit our own collection of American Bison!

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A Visit to the Doctor: Touring Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital
by | October 30th, 2015
Oakland Zoo's Veterinary Hospital

Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital

Wouldn’t it be nice if all the animals  at Oakland Zoo could take care of themselves, leading perfectly healthy lives on their own? Of course it would.  But the reality is that zoo animals, just like us humans, need occasional help to stay healthy.  That’s where the OZVH comes in. The newly built $10 million Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital provides comprehensive diagnostic care and treatment for creatures both great and small. Radiology, lab work, surgery, treatment, and recovery—all phases of veterinary care can be handled within this 17,000 square foot Gold LEED certified facility. This hospital has been a dream for Zoo President,  Dr. Joel Parrott, who has been working hard to make it a reality ever since he began working at Oakland Zoo. Visiting veterinarians at other AZA institutions to learn what works and what doesn’t, he and the architectural team were able to come up with a design that incorporated the latest technologies and procedures in the most efficient manner.

Generally, our hospital is not open to the public, so the majority of zoo visitors probably don’t even know of its existence. But thanks to the Zoo’s Education Department, it’s now possible for a limited number of guests

X-Ray Facilities

X-Ray Facilities

to visit this wonderful new facility. For the past two years Chantal Burnett, our Assistant Program Director of Volunteer Services, has been leading walking tours of the hospital. In that time, these hour-long tours have become so popular that she’s had to train a team of six docents to handle the demand. I recently had the opportunity to tag along on one of these tours. Although I’ve worked at the Zoo for many years and have been there many times, I was able to learn some new things about the facility that’s been touted as one of the finest veterinary hospitals in Northern California.

On this particular tour I was in the company of some women from the Taiwan tourist industry as well as some members of the Zoo’s Marketing department. Predictably, we began our tour at the

Large Animal Treatment Area

Large Animal Treatment Area

front door. But then Chantal led us through the facility via the same route that an ailing zoo animal would follow, providing us with a unique perspective.

Our first stop was Radiology, where animals are bought in for x-rays. Housed within lead-shielded walls, separate equipment for taking vertical as well as horizontal x-rays accommodate a variety of diagnostic situations.  Of all our animal residents, only elephants and giraffes are too large to be treated here at the hospital. In those cases, the vet staff has the ability to bring whatever equipment they need to the animals’ exhibits, for a “house call.”

Then it was on to Treatment, where multiple procedures can take place simultaneously, in the two adjacent rooms. Included in this area is equipment for anesthesia, oxygen, ultrasound and animal dentistry. Skylights augment the electrical lighting; stainless steel surfaces are easily cleaned.  The large folding padded equine table can safely accommodate hoofstock of any size.  Nearby is the scrub area, where the vet staff cleans up in preparation for their work. Also located nearby are the exam kits—plastic tote boxes containing the equipment needed for work in the field.

The Hoofstock Recovery Area provides a quiet environment (straw-covered floor, subdued lighting) for recently treated

Vet Tech Reviewing Information

Vet Tech Reviewing Information

animals to recuperate until they’re ready to return to their exhibits. Down the hall, the Quarantine area allows for the isolation of animals to prevent disease transmission. As a matter of protocol, all animals coming to the Zoo from other institutions are required to be quarantined for thirty days, so this facility is often used for this precautionary purpose as well.  The heated floor and hydraulic doors make this area safe and comfortable for these animals whose stay is generally longer than those being treated for specific health issues.

Various other dedicated areas are conveniently located nearby: a diet prep kitchen to prepare all the meals for the animal guests, a pharmacy, two separate laboratories for testing and research, as well as several rooms to meet the needs of the staff: laundry room, conference room, a kitchen

Visiting Veterinary Eye Specialist

Visiting Veterinary Eye Specialist

and several private and group offices. There’s even a cozy studio apartment that allows a staff member to stay overnight to keep an eye on animals that need frequent observation or care. Everything from the solar paneled roof to the heated floors of this facility helps provide for the needs of our more than 650 animal residents.

If you’re interested in booking a tour to see this wonderful new hospital for yourself, please contact Chantal Burnett at 510-632-9525 ext 209 (Tues- Sat) or email her at cburnett@oaklandzoo.org. Reservations are required. The hour-long tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 10 am and 12 noon. Tour fees are $20 for members /$25 for non-members. Pre-vet student groups and high school student groups are $200 per 20 students. Maximum number of guests per tour is 20. Hope to see you there!

 

Crazy About Bats!
by | September 27th, 2015

 

 

Hello, fellow conservation heroes, Zena the Zookeeper here!

Hot diggity dog!  It’s Halloween again, that most fabulous, silly, little-bit-spooky, dress-up-in-funny costumes, eat-waaay-too-much-candy time of year!  I like Halloween so much that I’m having a real battle trying to figure out what great thing to talk about this month.  I mean, I’ve been batting around all kinds of ideas, but I still don’t know which to choose. Hey wait a minute…maybe I’ll talk about bats!

Bats are some of the coolest, most amazing animals on earth.  There are 1,100 different kinds, or species, of bats in the world, and they range in size from the huge Malayan Flying Fox bat with a wing span of up to 6 feet (we have those here at the Zoo), to the bumble bee bat of Thailand that is actually smaller than a thumbnail!  Not only are bats nocturnal, which is really cool in itself, but some bats even help to control insect populations by eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.  Bats are so awesome!

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Here are some more fascinating facts about these beautiful, furry creatures of the night:

  1. Bats that eat fruit (like our Malayan and Island Flying Fox bats) don’t actually eat the whole fruit. They really just suck the juice out. While they are sucking the juice, they store the pulp of the fruit on the roof of their mouths.  Later, they spit out the disc of pulp, which just happens to contain fruit seeds and helps to plant more fruit trees and shrubs!  If you look closely at our bats, you can sometimes see these discs of pulp lying at the bottom of their enclosure.
  2. The wings of a bat are actually its hands, and that little “claw-like” hook on its wing is really a thumb!
  3. Not all bats are blind. For example, our Malayan and Island Flying Fox bats can even see color.  That’s important because it helps them know when the fruit they eat is ripe – kinda like your mom or dad squeezes an avocado or plum to see if it is ripe.
  4. If you’ve ever wondered what the skin on a bat’s wing feels like, well, wonder no more. The wing skin feels a lot like the soft skin on our eyelids.  Imagine that!
  5. There really are vampire bats – three different species, in fact – but they mostly drink the blood of other animals, and they never sleep in a coffin or wear long black capes!

If you come out to the Zoo this month, be sure to stop by and visit our most magnificent friends, the Flying Fox bats.  You could also take yourself on a little discovery tour and see how many different kinds of nocturnal animals live here – you’ll be amazed how many there are. And don’t forget to come to Boo at the Zoo on October 24th and 25th.  Wear a costume, trick or treat for yummy goodies, and join in the Halloween Dance Party in the meadow.  This year we are even having a special family camping night to celebrate Halloween called Family Sundown Spookfari.  To find out how to register for this great overnight program or to get details about all the fun happening at Boo at the Zoo visit www.oaklandzoo.org and check out our calendar.

Hope to see you soon!

Zena the Zookeeper