A Creek Runs Through It
by | August 12th, 2014

The natural occurrence of clean water used to be commonplace throughout the world. But these days, especially within urban settings, water needs all the help it can get. Part of that help involves taking care of the waterways that wind their way through our neighborhoods. Here at Oakland Zoo, our group of dedicated teen volunteers, the Teen Wild Guides (or TWGs), have been doing just that, helping the local creek return to its natural, healthy state. Along with a wide array of other volunteers, the TWGs have been joining the ongoing effort to restore habitat along Oakland’s Arroyo Viejo Creek, which runs through Knowland Park on its way to San Leandro Bay. These volunteers, who range in age from 10 to 100 years old, include high school groups, families, church groups, scout groups as well as alumni and corporate groups.photo (22)

During several weekends last year, the TWGs assisted the Zoo’s Education Department and Horticulture staff in leading Arroyo Viejo Creek volunteers and various community groups with the following projects: planting native species including Stipa grass plugs; clearing dirt debris and invasive plants from an adjacent new lawn area; clearing weeds from around new oak saplings and mulching around nearby trees; and creating a wooden border between a new parking area and the habitat restoration site to prevent native grasses from being damaged by zoo guests.

photo (14)Funding for the tools and materials needed for this restoration work has been provided by a generous $4900 grant from the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District’s Clean Water Program and Community Stewardship Grant Program. But the TWGs’ contributions to the creek’s welfare have gone beyond performing physical labor. These teens understand how important clean water is to the environment and humans, and that riparian habitats are critical for wildlife and ecosystem functions.

With this in mind, they’ve also assisted with sharing conservation information with our volunteers on a variety of pertinent topics, including:DSC02973

  • What are Watersheds?
  • Why watersheds are so important
  • Invasive Plant Species
  • Native Plant Species
  • Edible plants that are found alongside the creek
  • Riparian habitats
  • Animals that inhabit riparian habitats at the creek

Kiwanis Group with Hort 4613 037

 

Through their involvement with the county’s Clean Water Program, the TWGs have learned how to restore native vegetation on creek banks and wetland transition zones, and how this work has contributed to the long-term protection and biological health of streams, aquifers, and terrestrial resources of our watersheds in the North Bay. As part of this grant, the TWGs have also worked with teen volunteers at Fruitvale’s Peralta Hacienda Park, restoring native gardens and working on the restoration of Peralta Creek. The Oakland Zoo TWGs are always looking for new members. If you know an enthusiastic teen who’s interested in animals and community service, give the Zoo a call at 510-632-9525 ext 201. It could be the opportunity they’ve been waiting for—the chance to help make a difference in the natural world!

World Elephant Day: Celebrate, Mourn, and March On!
by | August 7th, 2014

WED LOGOAugust 12th. A day to celebrate how truly magnificent these majestic beings are: variations of grey, brown, and red, wrinkly skin thick and thin but so sensitive they can feel a butterfly land on them, strong in mind and body, emotional and full of facial expressions, unique individuals, funny, explorative, intelligent to say the least, protective of family, stubborn . . . the list goes on. A day to thank them for taking care of this earth and playing a key role in their ecosystem for the survival of other species. A day to advocate on behalf of them and protect them from a gruesome slaughter due to human greed. A day to mourn for those that have succumb to the poachers poison arrow or AK-47, and to not forget the rangers that have given their lives to watch over them. A day to recognize them for what and who they are supposed to be, not what the entertainment industry or circuses force them to be. A day to be grateful for them, respect them, and admire them from afar.

M'Dundamella at Oakland Zoo. We cannot allow more elephants like Mountain Bull and Satao be victims of the poaching crisis.

M’Dundamella at Oakland Zoo. We cannot allow more elephants like Mountain Bull and Satao to be victims of the poaching crisis.

There has been so much going on with elephants there is barely time to keep up with it all. Here are some of the ups and downs on the conservation end of what is currently going on.

  • DEFEAT. May 1st, 2014: Hawaii Ivory Bill failed to meet its final legislative approval deadline, despite unanimously passing 4 House and Senate committees, both chambers and with strong support of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and Governor Abercrombie. There are plans to reintroduce the bill in the coming year.
  • SAD NEWS. May 16th, 2014: Mountain Bull, a “famous” bull known for his rambunctious behavior was found dead with his tusks cut off in Mt. Kenya National Park.
  • GOOD NEWS. May 24th, 2014: Oakland Zoo had its most successful Celebrating Elephants yet, and raised over 34,000 dollars for Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Check out www.elephanttrust.org for more info on the 40 year African Elephant research study in Kenya, one we’ve been supporting for 18 years.
  • SAD NEWS. May 30th, 2014: Satao, one of Kenya’s largest bull elephants and with tusks so long they reached the ground, was announced killed by poachers from poison arrows. Satao will be missed, read a beautiful article written by Mark Deeble right before his death, www.markdeeble.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/satao-a-legend-2/
  • GOOD NEWS: Oakland Zoo will now be supporting Big Life Foundation through our Quarters for Conservation program. Every time you come to visit the zoo you should recieve a token to vote on one of the three conservation organizations of the year. Twenty-five cents of your admission fee goes towards these three organizations.  Big Life Foundation was founded by photographer Nick Brandt and conservationist Richard Bonham in September 2010.  Big Life has now expanded to employ 315 rangers, with 31 outposts and 15 vehicles protecting 2 million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of E. Africa. Big Life was the first organization in East Africa with co-ordinated cross-border anti-poaching operations.
  • 96 Elephants campaign created by Wildlife Conservation Society has been HOT with ACTION:
    Some of the 1600 templates our visitors and supporters have made to send to Governor Brown.

    Some of the 1600 templates our visitors and supporters have made to send to Governor Brown.

    • 159 Partners of the campaign to date (http://96elephants.org/coalition).
    • VICTORY! June 4th2014: Thanks to WCS, 96 Elephants partners, and advocates, Antiques Roadshow on PBS will no longer feature carved ivory tusks on air, and has removed past appraisals from their series archive.
    • VICTORY! June 18th 2014: The Ivory Bill in New York state was passed prohibiting transactions of ivory, mammoth, and rhino horn except for a few exceptions for certain musical instruments, educational and scientific purposes, 100 year old antiques that are less than 20% ivory with documentation of proof of provenance. The bill has also increased fines and jail time for violators.
    • ACTION: Kid’s can save elephants campaign. Oakland Zoo has been collecting kids’ drawings of elephants and letters for Governor Jerry Brown to be mailed to his office on August 12th, World Elephant Day, asking for the ivory trade to be banned and strengthened in the state of California. States around the country will be doing the same. Our initial goal was to turn in 960 drawings, but we have surpassed 1600! Check out Oakland Zoo’s super cool video featuring some of these pictures:
    • ACTION: Petition to ban the ivory trade. Oakland Zoo has been tabling weekly to increase public awareness and asking our visitors to sign the petition. We have collected over 1400 signatures! If you haven’t been to visit please go online to www.96elephants.org and sign the petition now.
    • ACTION: Go grey for World Elephant Day. Come visit Oakland Zoo on Tuesday, August 12th, World Elephant Day, and wear grey for our giant friends. We will be tabling, and educating, as well as giving away grey awareness ribbons.
  • VICTORY! June 16th, 2014: New Jersey State Assembly passes legislation to ban ivory trade in the state.
  • VICTORY! July 24, 2014: New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Select Committee announced their support of a petition, rallied by an Auckland teacher Virginia Woolf, calling the Government to push for the resumption of a full ban on the sale of ivory.

10462529_852455838112885_6531909974391969404_nMarch for Elephants working fiercely: MFE is a San Francisco based grassroots organization dedicated to direct and peaceful action to promote global awareness about the elephant crisis, advocate for cessation of poaching, to shut down China’s ivory carving factories, and to lobby state, federal, and international representatives to revise legislation which currently permits the trade and importation of ivory.

  • Currently MFE is tabling all over the Bay Area at fairs, farmers markets, parades, and Oakland Zoo to raise awareness and promote the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Go online to www.marchforelephants.org for more info, join as a member, and sign the petition to help stop the illegal ivory trade in California.

    On October 4th, over 113 cities worldwide will be marching to fight extinction!

    On October 4th, over 113 cities worldwide will be marching to fight extinction!

  • ACTION: Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, also known as GMFER, will take place on Saturday October 4th, in over 113 cities world-wide. Oakland Zoo will be marching in San Francisco, along with many other dedicated organizations and activists. For more information on the GMFER and to purchase your gear visit, www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org.

This about sums up what Oakland Zoo has been working on and supporting to fight for the survival of elephants in Africa. Remember that 96 elephants a day are being killed for their ivory, that’s about one every fifteen minutes. Please join us to help stop elephants from disappearing. Come visit on Tuesday, August 12th for World Elephant Day (www.worldelephantday.org) and get your awareness ribbon at the elephant habitat. Oh, and we’ll see you in San Francisco at the march. Onward, elephant warriors!

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It’s Definitely Summer at Oakland Zoo!
by | July 30th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperGreetings, fellow conservation heroes – Zena the Zookeeper here!

Glorioski it’s been hot lately! We zookeepers spend a lot of time outside, so we really try to remember to always wear a hat, stay in the shade as much as possible, drink lots and lots of water, and move a little bit slower than usual to keep our bodies from overheating. I’ll bet you do the same things on hot days (and if not, you should). Animals in the wild do those same things, too. They rest in the shade, find cool water for taking a little dip and drinking, and they keep their activity level low during the day.

Many of the animals at Oakland Zoo do other things to stay cool, as well, and some of them are a little weird – well, weird to us humans, anyway. For instance, griffon vultures and some other birds will poop and pee on their legs to keep cool – not exactly something most humans do! Other animals, like our Aldabra tortoises, estivate, which means that they go into a sort of sleep during hot weather, like a super-deep nap that lasts for months. Some mammals, like pygmy goats , lose a lot of fur, or shed when the weather gets really warm, so their coats aren’t so hot and heavy. If you see our elephants waving their ears during hot days, they are radiating heat from their ears: this cools down the blood as it moves through their ears first and then circulates through the rest of their bodies (this is how refrigerators work too). Our tigers pant – they breathe quickly through their mouths so the air going in and out will cool the moisture in their mouths. Our hyenas enjoy a cool dip in their water tub!Coolin' off!

Oakland Zoo’s animal keepers do lots of things to help our animals stay cool: we make sure they have shady places to rest in their enclosures, and we keep the doors to their night-houses open so they can go in and cool down any time they want – we even put fans in some of the night-houses.

We also give many of them popsicles to lick or eat. But, these aren’t your ordinary popsicles, though: some of our popsicles are made of fresh frozen juices and fruits, like the ones we make in big trash cans for our elephants; for our tigers, we create special meat and blood popsicles, and our otters get fish popsicles. I’m not so sure I’d like one of those as a snack, but our animals sure love them!We also make sure our otters have nice ice floes in their swimming water, and we use misters and hoses and swimming pits to help some of our animals stay cool. We even make sure our pigs and warthogs have big ol’ mud pits to roll around in and cool off. There is even a group of people (called the Taxon Advisory Group) who work with Zoos to make sure they only have animals that can live comfortably in the climate where the zoo is located.

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As you see, we work very hard to make sure our animals stay cool in the heat and can enjoy the wonderful months or summer. Next time you are here on a hot day, be sure to look around see how many different ways you can find that we are making sure we have the “coolest” animals in town!

 

See you at the Zoo – and stay cool until then!

 

 

 

Connecting Globally for Giraffe Conservation
by | June 26th, 2014
Me and Kayode as I help position him to recieve an acupuncture treatment. Photo by Colleen Renshaw

Me and Kayode as I help position him to recieve an acupuncture treatment. Photo by Colleen Renshaw

Giraffes are magical!  You simply can’t deny it!  I simply cannot imagine a world without giraffes!  What if the only place you could ever see a giraffe was in a zoo?   I remember coming to the zoo as a kid and seeing these gigantic, dinosaur-like animals gracefully moving through their exhibit.  I was fortunate enough to have a family friend that was a giraffe keeper so I was able to feed them and get close to them too.  I still remember how I felt when their giant heads would come down 15 feet, a long strand of drool coming from their big soft lips and floating away in the breeze, their purplish-grey tongue coming out to take the treats from my small hands.  From the time Amy Phelps was a small child, giraffes set the path for her life.   She has always wanted to work with giraffes and has always been drawn to them and now having the great privilege of being the Lead Giraffe Keeper at the Oakland Zoo she has devoted the past 14 years of her life to this majestic species. 

Now imagine if you spent your hard earned savings to take a dream safari to Africa and when you got there you found out that giraffes were so scarce that you may not even see one. Tragically this reality is not that far away. Just 15 years ago, the total number of giraffes in Africa was estimated by IUCN at greater than 140,000 individuals. In 2013, best estimates by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, a leading authority in giraffe conservation, have the Africa-wide population at less than 80,000 individuals – that is a loss of almost 60% – more than half of the giraffe in Africa are gone.

At Oakland Zoo, we focus a great deal on biodiversity conservation and our efforts are only increasing. Today’s zoos and aquariums are doing a lot to combat the terrifying level of biodiversity loss ongoing worldwide by providing knowledge, skills, and resources to projects in the field to enhance our understanding of conservation issues. But we still have to ask ourselves: if we, as human beings, can’t conserve one of the most iconical large land mammals, what future hope do salamanders and insects have in our world today? With all of this effort, surprisingly much is still unknown about giraffes, which has led to many misconceptions that may be impeding conservations efforts. More baseline knowledge is required to better understand how limiting factors – such as hunting and other human-based pressures, amount of protected viable habitat, and even basic giraffe biology – is needed for us to better understand giraffes and how they interact with and are affected by their environment.DSC06557

Oakland Zoo has also long been a supporter of giraffe welfare and conservation, and we continue to make strides in managing this charismatic species. Two of our Lead Keepers have assisted with research projects on giraffe in Africa; and as the Zoo’s Lead Keeper for giraffes and antelope, I sit on the Steering Committee for the Association of Zoo and Aquarium’s Antelope and Giraffe and Ungulate Taxon Advisory Group, helped lead the development of the International Association of Giraffe Care Professionals, and am a Research Associate for the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Our veterinary and giraffe management staff consult caregivers and scientists world-wide on our pioneering giraffe management program on topics such as managing positive-reinforcement based animal training for orthopedic and veterinary care, enrichment, nutrition, and geriatric and neonatal care. Even with all this, the truth is we can always do more.

We are in the beginning stages of training new Behavioral Observation Team volunteers on how to collect scientific behavioral data for a long-term study on our giraffes and eland, which will offer insight into how our giraffes interact socially and engage with their environment. The study has many similarities to data being collected by giraffe researchers in Africa for easy comparison, and to assist in the sharing of the data.

This year, our Quarters for Conservation program is raising funds for the Reticulated Giraffe Project. Reticulated giraffes seem to have taken some heavy hits due to poaching and habitat loss, with the population decreasing more than 80% from 30,000 10 years ago to 5,000 today. Reticulated giraffes occur only in the arid rangelands of north-east Africa and are well-sought after by tourists on safari, but surprisingly little else is known about their biology, ecology or behavior. The Reticulated Giraffe Project, a partnership between Queen’s University Belfast and the Kenya Wildlife Service, aims to address this lack of information by investigating aspects of the giraffe’s behavioral ecology and of the population processes operating upon them. Oakland Zoo is raising funds to support The Reticulated Giraffe Project through various means, and this year you can help by voting for this Project at the Quarters for Conservation Voting Station at the Zoo’s Main Entrance.

It appears EVERYONE is getting into the "Jeans for Giraffes" spirit! Donate your old denim to help conserve giraffes in the wild!

It appears EVERYONE is getting into the “Jeans for Giraffes” spirit! Donate your old denim to help conserve giraffes in the wild!

We are also hosting special activities for the first World Giraffe Day, Friday June 27, 2014. The festivities will begin with a Browse Parade where kids waving the giraffe’s favorite types of tree branches will start their browse march at our Quarters for Conservation kiosk in Karibu Village at the zoo’s main entrance and end at the African Veldt, where keepers will then offer the delicious branches to our giraffe. Zoo guests will also have the very unique opportunity to meet our giraffes during 5 feedings throughout the day! All proceeds from the Oakland Zoo’s World Giraffe Day celebration will go to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to support their efforts throughout Africa. Last but certainly not least, we will be kicking off the new collaborative fundraising campaign called Jeans for Giraffes –bring ion your old and worn denim and recycle in our special reticulated bins around the zoo! The money we gain from recycling the old jeans will go straight to giraffes in Africa!

To learn more about what Oakland Zoo is doing for giraffes and how you can do more, visit our Giraffe Conservation Page on the Oakland Zoo website, and come see us for our World Giraffe Day celebration tomorrow, this Friday, June 27th!  We hope to see you there!

Commissary at Oakland Zoo – the one for the animals, I mean…
by | June 26th, 2014

DSC_0026The daytime diet prep usually takes place in the morning so we have plenty of time pay attention to their details. It consists of the produce diets, meat diets and bird diets. The produce diets are a personal favorite because of how wonderfully colorful they look once done. Some are simple-consisting of only a few ingredients like grapes, apples and lettuce while others are complicated, requiring 9 different types of fruits and vegetables or more. For some of our smaller animals like the coatimundis and macaws individual pieces of their produce must be weighed making for a rather time consuming diet. The Vervet monkeys have a complicated social hierarchy. For this reason we must be careful to make all the pieces of food the same size so no monkey gets shorted which could create a conflict within the group. The heaviest diet by far that we prepare are the elephant buckets. We make we chop and fill to the brim four six gallon buckets with different fruits or vegetables. These can weigh up to 40 lbs and the pieces need to be about golf ball sized. The reason these pieces need to be small is so our elephants are prompted to exhibit natural foraging behaviors like they would in the wild. This is especially achievable if small bits of food are scattered throughout the exhibit or in their enrichment. We use this idea of foraging enrichment with almost all our other animals too.

A giant popsicle I made for the Sun Bears on a particularly warm day last week

A giant popsicle I made for the Sun Bears on a particularly warm day last week

While it can be a bloody and messy job, completing the meat diets is a rewarding feeling. Especially since to get the proper weight, some large pork neck bones must be cut in half! Bones for the tigers, lions and hyenas usually weigh in at around 1.5-2 lbs and our 5 tigers go through nearly 12 lbs of meat per day. I am always impressed by the variety of meat to which our carnivores have access. Not the least of which are ox tail bones, ground turkey, pork bones, frozen chickens, whole frozen rabbits, whole frozen rats, horse loin and even venison on occasion. Nearly every day our big cats and hyenas get bones but the type of ground meat they get changes depending on the day of the week. Our lucky senior Griffon Vulture gets a different type of meat every day of the week but he appears to be most fond of venison. Many of our other carnivorous/omnivorous birds get ground meat, fish and frozen mice in addition to vitamin oils and powders. It’s a stinky job to slice up defrosted smelt for the ibis but they do seem to love it.

Bird diets are another time consuming job taking 2 hours to make but they are well worth it and visually appealing. Over 20 trays are filled with different types of seeds, pellets and produce depending on the aviary they are going into. To make sure our birds don’t get bored we will put in additions like grated cheese, black beans, hard boiled eggs and oyster shell. A large portion of our birds and other animals are partially if not completely insectivores so for this reason we keep and care for live insects in the commissary. Besides, it’s always more soothing to prepare food to the sound of chirping crickets.

With enough volunteer or intern help, the summation of all these diets usually take 3-4 hours to make before they are taken up to the main zoo’s walk in refrigerator.  Defrosting meats, restocking our large fridge, tending to the insect colonies, and lots of cleaning are part of the normal daily duties. Work can be slow and laid back or rushed and stressful but one thing for certain is there’s never a boring day in commissary.

Zena the ZooKeeper
by | June 26th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperHey Kids! It’s summer time and you know what that means? We finally get to celebrate Feast for the Beasts at the Zoo!  For those of you who are still bummed that our first Feast for the Beast event got rained out this past Spring, now is the time to celebrate! For those of you who might not know about Feast for the Beasts, let me tell you all about it!

Taking place every spring and summer, this event is special because you, (yes, you!) get to bring fruits and vegetables to the Zoo for our elephants to eat. And let me tell you, they definitely enjoy their yummy treats. Feast for the Beasts1Our four African elephants eat around 300 lbs. of food a day- that’s 1,200 lbs. every single day! So we ZooKeepers definitely look forward to getting help with their feeding on these special days. On Feast for the Beasts days (when it’s not RAINING in the Spring, that is), Zoo visitors get to spread all the fruits and veggies they brought with them around the elephant exhibit.  After that’s done, the visitors leave the exhibit and the elephants are let in to gobble up all those delicious, nutritious veggie goodies. It’s way cool to watch!  BUT, when it rains the ground inside the elephant exhibit gets really muddy and – the elephants LOVE mud – but those muddy conditions prohibit us from letting Zoo guests come inside the elephant exhibit to spread around the goodies. This time, there is ZERO chance of rain, so come on down and bring some veggies or fruit!

What kinds of fruits and vegetables to bring for the elephants, you ask? Elephants just LOVE carrots, apples, ripe bananas, kiwi, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, whole cabbage heads, celery stalks, sweet potato, pineapple, pomegranate, and oranges. An elephant can eat an entire watermelon in one mouthful – just look at the picture here from a past years’ Feast for the Beasts event! Oh, and if you do bring something to eat for the elephants, you’ll get a free ride ticket. Nothing ends a great day at the Zoo better than some fun in Adventure Landing.

_DSC0179Aside from the awesome elephant experience, there will be animal feedings all over the Zoo. Want to see the tigers, lemurs, or even alligators get fed? Well, here’s your chance. Check out the schedule below and plan your day with us. Can’t wait for you to join us on July 26th for Feast for the Beasts at Oakland Zoo!

Zena the ZooKeeper