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!

It’s “Celebrating Elephants” time at Oakland Zoo!
by | April 30th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperDid you know that Oakland Zoo is the only zoo in Northern California with African Elephants?  We have FOUR amazing African Elephants, three females and one male, and if you know the Oakland Zoo, you know that elephant conservation is VERY important to us! Elephants in the wild are in trouble, and they have been for a very long time. Why? Because they are hunted for their beautiful ivory tusks. Trinkets, jewelry and other stuff is carved from their ivory. Hunting elephants is against the law, but sadly it still happens.

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.

Not too long ago, we at the Zoo decided to get even more involved in saving wild elephants than we already are by joining a campaign called “96 Elephants”. 96 is how many elephants are killed in the wild every day for their ivory. But there is good news! There are new laws here in the United States to stop the importing of ivory! Lots if Zoos are banding together to help stop the ivory trade altogether, and you can help too!

Every year, we at the Zoo have a very special event called “Celebrating Elephants”. On May 17th, we have a fun-filled day where you can enjoy and learn about elephants, while helping to save elephants in the wild. The Zoo is home to four African elephants named Donna, Lisa, M’Dunda and Osh, you can read more about them below. On the 17th, you can see them up close by buying a ticket for a special private elephant barn tour! We will also be selling raffle tickets for great prizes and all the money raised will go to helping elephants in the wild through our conservation partner, the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Africa.

Osh, our only boy, is 20 and has been with us since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born with his family group. Young males in the wild get kicked out of their herd from ages 8-12, and that is what Osh’s mom and aunts started to do to him, so we gave him a home here at Oakland Zoo. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, and he loves to play, browse and graze.

Donna is 35 years old and came to Oakland Zoo in 1989. She very quickly became the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls.  At nighttime you will find her having fun playing with the large tractor tires in her enclosure and charging into the pool for a cool-down! Personality-wise Donna is impatient, loves to participate in training, and is closely bonded with Lisa, whom she sleeps with every night. See how and why we train our elephants here!

Lisa is 37 years old and has been with us since she was two years old. She came from Kruger National Park in South Africa and went briefly to a “training” facility for several months then came to the zoo. Lisa is an ‘elephant’s elephant,’ she likes all of her pachyderm friends, and wants to make everyone happy. She loves her pool. We call her our water baby, because she will take daily dips if the weather is right! Want to see Lisa taking a bath? She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

M’Dunda is 45 years old and came to us in 1991. She has a bad history of abuse at her previous facility; which is amazing because she is an extremely gentle soul and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She loves to play with Osh, and is often spotted at night leaning over the fence into Osh’s area, trunk-twirling with him. She can be a little insecure, and scared of new situations. When she first came here she wouldn’t eat her treat boxes! She sure does now, though! She also has long beautiful tusks.

So come to “Celebrating Elephants” on May 17th and see our elephants up close, learn about elephants in the wild, and just have a great  ol’ time!

 

Earth Day Outreach and Elephant Advocacy
by | April 25th, 2014

Last Saturday, April 19th, Oakland Zoo celebrated Earth Day with over fifty conservation organization stations and over 5,000 zoo guests to educate! Up at the elephant enclosure we were engaging our visitors to take action for elephants! They had three options:

  1. Cheryl Matthews, elephant barn volunteer, encouraging kids to draw elephant pictures for the 96 Elephants campaign.

    Cheryl Matthews, elephant barn volunteer, encouraging kids to draw elephant pictures for the 96 Elephants campaign.

    1. Sign a petition. In support of our new partner 96 Elephants (www.96elephants.org) we received over 100 signatures for a petition to say no to the ivory trade and to support all government efforts in the United States to declare a ban on the trade.

  2. 2. Color an elephant picture. As part of 96 Elephants Kids Save Elephants campaign, children were encouraged to color a picture of an elephant, and turn it in to zoo staff. Our goal is to gather up 960 drawings to turn into our state governor. Since 96 Elephants has over 100 partners, their overall goal is to have 96,000 drawings total to turn into state governors. This was a huge hit with the kids, and we acquired over 120 drawings, well on our way to 960!

3. Buy a ticket for the Celebrating Elephants drawing. Our Celebrating Elephants events, on May 17th and 24th are coming up soon (www.oaklandzoo.org/Events.php). Guests had the opportunity to buy a ticket to win the following prizes: An up-close visit with our elephants to see how we care for them through

Kids advocating for elephants at Oakland Zoo Earth Day!
Kids advocating for elephants at Oakland Zoo Earth Day!

 

Protected Contact, Giants tickets, Walk in the Wild tickets, Oakland Zoo Zoomobile visit, and Zoo Lights family tickets. All proceeds of this event and from the drawing go to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya to support the 40 year research project which directly protects the elephants that live in the park.

Talking to kids and adults about what’s going on with the ivory trade got me really excited for our 18th annual Celebrating Elephants Day, a day of advocacy for captive and wild elephants here at Oakland Zoo. Engaging the public whether it’s to sign a petition, or donate their time or money, is so important because it means they are a part of the change that is to come and it means that they care. Every dollar, every minute, and every thought spent on elephants counts in the fight to save them, whether from the circus or the ivory trade.

Celebrating Elephants Evening Saturday, May 17th: Join us for a lovely evening of light appetizers and beverages and peruse an array of silent auction items donated from local bay area restaurants, breweries, shops, and artists. Auction items feature gift certificates, local winery gift baskets, sports events tickets, hand-crafted art, and behind the scenes visits to California Academy of Sciences, CuriOdessey, Safari West, and Oakland Zoo! The highlight of the evening will be speaker Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist at 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. Come hear stories of success and struggle of the magnificent elephants of the Amboseli Plains. Watch a sneak peak of Vicki here on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWsuXbUJNpI). This year’s Celebrating Elephants will be in honor of 96 Elephants. We will feature their petition to sign, information about the campaign, and a small presentation before the lecture about our involvement.

Celebrating Elephants Day, Saturday May 24th: Join us for a day of adventure and fun, while being educated about the perils of the ivory trade and cruelty of elephants in circuses. Highlights of the day include: elephant barn tours to see Osh elephant get his daily pedicure while keepers explain the importance of protected contact and training, Circus-Finelli, an animal-free circus, an elephant treat box making station, face painting, and a chance to learn how to observe and identify elephants in the wild!

Just like you helped us make Earth Day special come and join us for Celebrating Elephants and be an elephant advocate. Sign petitions, draw an elephant, and buy a drawing ticket all in the fight to save the earth’s most majestic creature. Remember everything you do, no matter how small helps, even if it’s encouraging a friend to attend!

Forty Candles Burning Bright for the Docents’ Big Party
by | April 24th, 2014

 

 

Back in the Day

Back in the Day. Oakland Zoo now maintains a “protected contact” system in animal management.

Do you know who’s turning 40 at Oakland Zoo this year? No, it’s not Osh the elephant or Benghazi the giraffe. (Those guys are mere babies by comparison.) I’ll give you a clue. This creature has more than 160 legs and can be found roaming wild on nearly every pathway in the Zoo. Give up? It’s the Oakland Zoo Docent Council. And on April 27th, they’ll be celebrating a whopping forty years of serving the public here at the Zoo.

It was back in 1973 when Zoological Society Executive Director Flora Aasen suggested that the Zoo recruit volunteers to serve as docents to help educate and assist zoo visitors. From that idea, the first docent training class was established and held at the Zoo (which consisted of a mere ten people!) In the forty years since, as the Zoo has undergone tremendous growth, we’ve trained and graduated hundreds of passionate individuals into the program. During that same period, there’s been a wealth of noteworthy docent accomplishments, including the introduction of the Zoomobile, ZooSchool, and Wildlife Theater programs; the leading of untold thousands of guided cart tours, walking tours, and Animal Encounters; the creation of talking storybook boxes and docent bio-fact stations; the initiation of numerous events such as the public lecture series, Animal Fund Boutique, Animal Amore tours, Celebrating Elephants Day, and many others as well as the hosting of Jane Goodall’s National ChimpanZoo Conference . In addition, the docents have sold thousands of Oakland Zoo memberships, increasing the number from 600 to an impressive 26,000; supported and fundraised for causes like Quarters for Conservation, Budongo Snare Removal and Uganda lion conservation, and personally donated an astounding $200,000 to help in the construction of the Education Center, the Children’s Zoo and the new veterinary hospital. Through their tireless efforts, the docents have advocated for animal conservation by helping to improve animal care here, and helped elevate Oakland Zoo to compete with the best zoos in the world. Not bad for a bunch of volunteers. And in 2012, the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents listed the Oakland Zoo Docent Council in the top ten of the longest running programs of its kind in the US.

Doing What They Do Best

Doing What They Do Best

On Sunday April 27th, the docents will gather at the Zoo to celebrate these and many other accomplishments– and just as important, to look ahead to what is sure to be an even brighter future. Honored guests include a distinguished array of heavyweights including docent co-founders JoAnne Harley and Pam Raven Brett, former education directors Arlyn Christopherson and Anne Warner , as well as video participation by Oakland Zoo President and CEO Dr. Joel Parrott. This celebration comes at a time when Oakland Zoo stands poised to embark on its ambitious California Trail project, heralding a new era of wildlife education and conservation in the Bay Area. With forty years of momentum, the Oakland Zoo Docents are certainly ready to be a part of it. This anniversary celebrates a great future as well as a proud past, and promises to be a most momentous occasion!

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.