Oakland Zoo & Local Conservation
by | February 25th, 2014

As a leading presence in a community that attracts more than 700,000 visitors each year, Oakland Zoo strives to bring attention to important concerns in the field of wildlife conservation. For many years, the Zoo has demonstrated its ability to move forward in addressing these concerns. As one of our guiding principles, this commitment to conservation can be seen right here in Oakland, where we’ve initiated a variety of programs within the Zoo and surrounding Knowland Park to help preserve native species of plants and animals. Through our docent program, community outreach, and ongoing Conservation Speaker Series, we’re able to provide the public with relevant messages about species, alert them to the various conservation projects that the Zoo is involved with, and give practical tips on how they can help. Like the roots of a tree, these local efforts branch out in a regional and state-wide scope. Partnering with conservation organizations throughout California, Oakland Zoo supports projects that provide maximum results with the available resources.

Oakland Zoo’s commitment to native species and wildlife is showcased in several programs currently underway:

Western Pond Turtle Head-start Program: The Western Pond Turtle is the only native aquatic turtle in California. Oakland Zoo, in conjunction with Sonoma State University and the San Francisco Zoo, began the first Western Pond Turtle head starting program in California. Through a combination of raising and releasing hatchlings, research, in-field studies, and education, this partnership seeks to further understand and support the reintroduction of this shrinking population. To date and through this conservation effort, Oakland Zoo has helped reintroduce more than 500 Western Pond Turtles into the wild.
Biodiversity Center: A new Zoo facility focused on conserving California species. In August of 2013, this 2,000 sq. ft. complexwas opened and is dedicated to small animal research, rescue, and rehabilitation while incorporating educational programming and interpretive messages on how to conserve native wildlife. The California Biodiversity Classroom will educate visitors on the crucial interdependence of plants, animals, people, and the environment as well as the importance of becoming responsible stewards of California’s rich natural heritage through hands-on, interactive scientific research activities including “citizen science” projects, habitat restoration, and field biology workshops.
Mountain Lion Response and Care: Oakland Zoo, working in partnership with various agencies, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, provides support to respond to mountain lion conflict incidences in the Bay Area. The Zoo offers the program staff expertise, capture and dart equipment, and a state of the art veterinary facility to care for and rehabilitate a mountain lion until its release back into the wild.
Mountain Lion Research: Through a partnership with the Bay Area Puma Project, our skilled staff is working in the field to better understand the behavior of mountain lions with the goal of learning to better co-exist with this apex predator.
California Condor: As part of the California Condor Recovery Team and in partnership with Ventana Wildlife Society,  Zoo staff members are trained in field research and the vital medical treatments these awe-inspiring birds need to recover from lead poisoning. The Zoo has built The Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center, a facility specifically designed to treat the massive sized birds, where chelation treatment on the birds can be conducted by our veterinary staff. Oakland Zoo’s Education Department  has also developed extensive student programming around this highly endangered species, which includes field studies and classroom research.
Mountain Yellow–Legged Frog: In partnership with  with Vance T. Vredenburg, Ph.D and San Francisco State University, this program involves the support of field work, conservation efforts and treatment procedures to save this species of frog from Chytrtid Fungus. Through research focusing on resistance to the fungus, the future goal is to breed and reintroduce captive bred froglets back to their natal lakes and streams.
Butterfly Conservation Initiative: Oakland Zoo, a founding member of the BFCI, has contributed to its success in a number of ways, most notably with the debut of its Barbara Robbins Memorial Butterfly Garden in May 2003.

Restoration of Local Creek Watershed: In 2008, the Arroyo Viejo Creek restoration project included creek restoration, extensive removal of non-native plants, re-planting of native plant habitat, six new outdoor classrooms with seating made from eucalyptus trees felled at the site, interpretive signage, and a connecting trail. Currently, Oakland Zoo’s Volunteer Creek Crew meets monthly to steward this stretch of the Arroyo Viejo Creek.

Earth Day: Oakland Zoo’s “Party for the Planet” is celebrated at Oakland Zoo as a means to offer our many partners and colleagues in the environmental and wildlife fields a forum to interact with 5,000 zoo visitors on Earth Day. It is also an opportunity to build relationships that share the mission of conserving the natural world.

Local Seed Stock for Native Grassland Protection: In 2012, more than 40,000 native Knowland Park seeds were gathered in order to germinate, create a reserve, and replant areas around our new Veterinary Hospital and in Knowland Park.
Long-Term Commitment to Habitat Enhancement in Knowland Park: In 2011, Oakland Zoo developed a comprehensive Habitat Enhancement Plan for Knowland Park and the future “California Trail.” Habitat enhancement will be achieved through the control and eradication of invasive species and the subsequent re-vegetation of native ones.
Conservation Speaker Series: This series of evening lectures provides the opportunity for the public to meet and hear leading scientists and researchers in various areas of local and worldwide conservation. Upcoming topics include saving the mountain lion and California condor.
Quarters for Conservation: By involving Zoo guests in the voting process, this program allows them to choose how their money is used for conservation programs in the field, be it the Uganda Carnivore Program, helping the Reticulated Giraffe or the saving the highly endangered Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog.

Here at Oakland Zoo, we’re proud not only of our many ongoing conservation efforts but also the dedicated staff members who help support them. Among our many skilled educators, veterinarians, fundraisers, marketers, volunteers and animal care professionals, all are enthusiastic about participating in the efforts to protect these native species. One look out the window of the offices or a quick stroll through the park can reveal an abundance of wild turkeys and deer, with regular sightings of foxes, skunks, herons, egrets, hawks and many other birds. The presence of these native wild animals illustrates quite simply how two worlds often thought to be separate from one another can easily co-exist side by side.

 

 

96 a day, 96 await . . .
by | February 10th, 2014
African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 74% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.

African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 76% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.

This is the number of African elephants that are currently being killed every day for their tusks. In 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants, by 1989 there remained only 600,000. In 1989, an international ban on selling ivory was created which decreased its value and stopped the demand . . . but only temporarily. Many of the countries in Africa have stockpiles of ivory from seizures and pre-1989, and some of those countries were given permission to have one-off sales of those stockpiles to primarily Asian countries, which in change created demand and increased value once again. In the last decade elephant numbers have begun to plummet and now there is an estimated 400,000 or fewer left. That’s a 76% decline in the overall elephant population, and over 3/4‘s of the forest elephants that live in Central Africa. If rates continue at this level elephants may be nearing extinction in ten years.

The tusks or ivory of an elephant is a very desirable material and the only way to obtain the tusks of an elephant is to kill them. Due to a growing middle class in China and the ivory being used as a symbol of “status quo”, the demand for ivory is at an all-time high. The estimated cost per 1 kg (2.2 lbs) is $1800.00 US dollars. If an average female elephant has about 10 kg of ivory, than

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

each elephant is worth $18,000.00 dollars, and that’s wholesale. The retail value of 10 kg can be sold for $60,000 dollars! The incentive is paramount. The money that is being generated by wildlife trafficking is a 7-10 billion dollar industry, which ranks fifth globally behind trafficking in drugs, humans, oil, and counterfeiting. Even worse, the trafficking is dominated by well-organized syndicates that operate as transnational criminal networks and often participate in other illegal activities, including trafficking in narcotics and weapons, and some have links with terrorist networks. Visit my blog for more information on the history of the trade (www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2012/03/14/of-tusks-and-terror-the-truth-about-ivory/).

Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.

Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.

Shockingly, besides Asian markets, the United States is in the top ten nations to import ivory. Much of this trade is legal under a confusing set of U.S. regulations that perpetuates black market sales of illegal ivory. Simply put, pre-ban ivory or “legacy” ivory is still legal to sell, but once the illegal ivory gets into these countries, the ivory is almost impossible to differentiate. Although permits are required for proof of the ivory being legal, they are easy to manipulate and fake. New York is the number one market, and San Francisco the second biggest market in the U.S. So sad, and so close to home.

Ask yourself this: Can I live in a world with no elephants? Here are some reasons why elephants are so important to this world.

Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants.

Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants. Photo by author.

Elephants are a keystone species. Elephants play a very important role in their ecosystem, clearing away brush that therefore creates a clearing for other species, making available food sources for those species available. They also dig for water, creating pools for other animals to drink from. Without them, other species cannot survive.

  • Earth’s constant gardeners. Through their “digested leftovers” elephants are seed dispersers, helping to replenish their habitat, and regrow food sources for other species.
  • Complex beings. Elephants are extremely intelligent, emotional, and complex beings, living in a matriarchal society the females are bonded for life. The matriarch whom has had years of training and information handed down from her mom, plays a critical role in the herds survival. Often the matriarchs are being killed first for their larger tusks, creating broken herds, who are having a much harder time surviving without her. Elephants have self-awareness, and also mourn their dead.

How Oakland Zoo is helping.

Oakland Zoo has always been on the forefront of supporting elephant conservation awareness as well as advocacy for elephants in captivity, promoting natural history and behaviors through proper management. Amboseli Trust for Elephants (www.elephanttrust.org), led by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss, have been one of our partners for eighteen years and through our annual Celebrating Elephants Day and Evening Lecture we have been able to raise over 250,000 dollars over the years. This money goes straight to the project, helping support their research as well as protect the elephants in the park.

We are proud to announce a new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society through their campaign called 96 Elephants. The “96” campaign is on board

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.

with the Clinton Global Initiative, CGI, who announced their commitment in September of 2013 with a plan, “Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants” which includes other NGO partners and nation leaders. Along with over 111 partners, many of which are AZA Accredited institutions, “96” plans to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. Collectively zoos play a powerful role in conservation efforts.  With so many resources at our fingertips as well as a very large audience of visitors it is our job to do what we can to help support organizations that are fighting for the survival of hundreds of threatened species. Through collaborative efforts with world citizens, partners, and change makers, this campaign will focus on: securing effective United States moratorium laws; bolstering elephant protection with additional funding; and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis. We are excited to be joining this campaign and look forward to collaborating with such a hard working group of people.

Oakland Zoo will help the 96 Elephants campaign through the following ways:

  • Financial support: Stopping the killing of elephants is critical but cannot be done without more financial support to the rangers that are there to protect them. Boosting this support will help increase numbers of guards, provide them with high tech tools such as drones and live cameras to track poachers,
    Specially trained sniffer dogs accompany rangers to help stop ivory trafficking. Photo copyright Ruth Starkey/WCS.

    Specially trained sniffer dogs accompany rangers to help stop ivory trafficking. Photo copyright Ruth Starkey/WCS.

    and hire specially trained sniffer dogs to find smuggled ivory in ports and trading hubs.

  • Awareness: Educating the public is critical in creating the connection between ivory consumption and elephant poaching. In tabling at the zoo, I have personally found that many people thought that an elephant shed their tusks just like teeth! Media promotion through live news, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to promote the campaign is crucial in spreading the word about the crisis.
  • Legislation: Oakland Zoo will make every effort to support and promote online petitions and letter writing campaigns. We will also help support working on legislation for moratorium or ban on selling ivory right here in California!

How you can help.

  • Don’t buy ivory!
  • Go online to www.96elephants.org to read more detail about the campaign and elephants.
  • Donate to the campaign.
  • Sign the petition, and participate in letter writing campaigns. So far, over 113,000 constituents have taken advocacy action and sent a combined 196,000 emails to Congress, President Obama, and Secretary of the Interior Jewell.
  • Promote the campaign through your blog and social media channels
  • Talk to your friends and spread the word about what’s going on.

Please do what you can to help elephants, nothing you can contribute is too small! Remember, another day . . . another 96 await.

Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!

Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!

 

Please join Oakland Zoo for our 18th Annual Celebrating Elephants (www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=800). Saturday May 17th at 6pm in the Zimmer Auditorium, Dr. Vicki Fishlock, Research Associate of Amboseli Trust for Elephants will be our inspirational guest speaker. Dr. Fishlock will present her experience working with African elephants as part of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. Silent auction items to bid on and refreshments to dine on. Saturday, May 24th from 10am to 4pm will be our day long zoo event, which includes barn tours with an opportunity to see Oakland Zoo’s cutting edge management, create treats for the elephants, and watch Circus Finelli, an animal free circus. All proceeds go to ATE.

The Lions of Oakland Zoo…Sandy & Leonard
by | February 7th, 2014
Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

 

If you’ve been to the Zoo, you’ve likely seen Sandy & Leonard, lounging around in their expansive exhibit, soaking up the sun or enjoying some animal enrichment their loving ZooKeepers so carefully laid out for them earlier that morning. Their presence is awe inspiring, to say the least. It’s hard to believe it has been almost one and a half decades since they arrived here as cubs at Oakland Zoo.  Many people don’t know the history of these two- siblings, actually- so we’d like to share their story with you.

They were the first rescued lions to be placed in a zoo by the Houston SPCA. It was July, 2000 in Crockett, Texas.  Police entered a suspect’s property on an unrelated warrant and found 14 exotic cats and a wolf. Houston SPCA seized all the animals and was given custody of them after the owner had been found to have cruelly treated the animals: depriving them of necessary food, care, and shelter. Two of the cats were 4-month old lion cubs; they were starving, dehydrated, flea ridden, and their coats were patchy and dry.  The Houston SPCA provided them with housing and veterinary care and a month later, they arrived to us, via Continental Airlines, here at Oakland Zoo.

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Thus named “Sandy” and “Leonard” the two resided in our Veterinary Care Center while they gained weight and strength. At the time, the Zoo already had an established lion pride, so a separate outdoor holding area was constructed adjacent to the existing lion exhibit, called ‘Simba Pori’.

As the cubs grew, ZooKeepers began plans to introduce Sandy and Leonard to our four resident mature lions, Victor, Marika, Sophie and Maddie. In January 2001, Sandy and Leonard moved up to the lion night house. The introduction and integration of the lions had moderate success. The youngsters did well with our adult male, Victor, and one adult female, Marika, but the other two females did not appreciate their presence.  As with domestic cats, you never know how felines will get along! We took our cues from the lions’

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

behaviors and decided to manage the lions as separate groups. Over the years, in 2010, the older lions succumbed to age-related illnesses (2 from kidney disease and 2 from cancer). So, today, Sandy and Leonard have taken ownership of the lion exhibit, the night house, and the hearts of staff, ZooKeepers and guests alike.

While their beginnings in the exotic animal trade surely could have destined them to a life of cruelty, we were fortunate to have been able to provide them with a safe and forever home here at the zoo.

Parent’s Night Out
by | January 29th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperHey Kids!  Zena the Zookeeper here. Want to spend an evening at the Zoo without your parents? Well here’s your chance because we have a brand-new program we’d love for you to come to. It’s actually called “Parent’s Night Out” but don’t let the name fool you – it’s going to be blast for you, too. “Parent’s Night Out” lets your parents free to have an evening to themselves, I don’t know, doing whatever they like to do! The good news is, it means YOU get to come to the zoo for all sorts of fun at the same time!

Your parents will drop you off at the zoo in the early evening, and the fun begins! Our awesome education staff will greet you, and then take you and your newly-made friends to dinner – here at the zoo of course. Then, with the Zoo closed to the public, you get a super special nighttime private tour to see some of the nocturnal animals here. You might think the Zoo is a quiet place at night, but that’s not the case at all. Our spotted hyenas, lions and great-horned owls can be heard whooping, roaring and hooting off-and-on from sundown to sunup. At night in our Bug House, New Guinea walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches giant African millipedes skitter in the dark, looking for food. And then, there are my favorites: our beautiful bats, called Island and Malayan Flying Foxes. We also have some nocturnal frogs and geckos.

After the tour, we’ll head back to our auditorium to meet an animal up close! We’ll play some games and end the night with a movie you’re sure to love. Your parent(s) will pick you up after your fun-filled and exciting night and you can tell them all about the cool new adventures you had at the Zoo! Well, that’s it for now. Hope to see you there, on February 14th. Mark your calendars and make your reservation today!

Conservation On-Site: The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog
by | January 29th, 2014

As you visit Oakland Zoo this winter and spring you may notice that the animals and projects we are supporting at our Quarters for Conservation booth in Flamingo Plaza have changed.   I would like you to pay special attention to the developing partnership with the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog project.   This project teams up Oakland Zoo with San Francisco State University in bringing awareness to and supporting the recovery of this critically endangered species that is found right here in the mountains of California.

Yellow-legged_frog_Point_Reyes

Once one of the most numerous species found in their alpine habitat in the Sierra Nevada, Transverse, and Peninsular ranges they are now one of the rarest despite this habitat being found in some of the most well-managed and inaccessible areas of the state.    During some of the initial research looking into this decline the focus was on the impact and removal of game fish that were introduced to their alpine habitats, such as trout.   The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog evolved in a habitat where such efficient predators were not common and the eggs, tadpoles, and frogs themselves became easy prey.  With the management and removal of these introduced fish species some areas showed rapid recovery of frogs.    However, some did not, and in fact the overall population continued to decline.    The emerging disease known as the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) was found to be the cause of this continued decline and was attacking the frogs during one of their most sensitive transitions in life, the one between tadpole and juvenile life stages.    The chytrid fungus works by attacking the keratin in the skin of juvenile and adult frogs preventing them from being able to use their skin to respirate and exchange water leading to their deaths, wiping out whole populations.   For some reason the disease does not affect the tadpoles of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, but it will remain with them through the several years they spend as a tadpole.    This makes the tadpoles, along with several other frog species that are not affected, a means to not only infect their own kind with this deadly fungus, but to make it almost impossible to eliminate from the environment.

With this revelation the focus to save the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog changed to not only manage and remove non-native fish, but to support the frogs in gaining resistance to the chytrid fungus during this transition in their life.   The support comes in the form of a bacterium called Janthinobacterium lividum.    The bacteria was discovered on the skin of a fellow amphibian, the red-backed salamander, and later discovered to also be present on the skins of Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog in varying levels.   This bacterium has the unique feature of having anti-fungal properties and when found in greater numbers on amphibian skin can help to increase resistance to the chytrid fungus.    Now, in steps Dr. Vance Vredenburg and the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog Project.   Dr. Vredenburg has been pioneering skin bio augmentation treatments using Janthinobacterium lividum to support juvenile frogs that are being rereleased or will be re-released into their habitats in both Northern and Southern California.     Through a partnership with San Diego Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, and soon Oakland Zoo, San Francisco State University is hoping to tip the balance for these frogs by collecting them as eggs from their habitat, hatching them in captivity, raise them to juvenile frogs, treating them with this anti-chytrid bacterium, and release them back into their natal ponds and streams.   It is hoped that not only will this prove to provide long term resistance to chytrid, but will be naturally passed between frogs as they naturally congregate together in the shallows off the banks of the rivers and lakes they live.

If you are interested in learning more about the plight of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and supporting them as well during their most vulnerable transitions you can join us on Wednesday February 5th at 6:30 p.m. in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium at our Conservation Speaker Series event when Dr. Vance Vredenburg joins us to discuss his work with the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and the implications his research has to save this and potentially numerous other amphibian species worldwide.

 by Victor Alm, Zoological Manager

 

PARENTS GET A “TIME-OUT”
by | January 28th, 2014

Hey Parents!parentnightout

Need a fun place to leave the kids while you go out and enjoy some time alone with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? Look no further than Oakland Zoo. Starting this year, the Zoo is offering a fun new program called “Parents Night Out” that might be just what you’re looking for. But it’s more than simply “babysitting at the Zoo” – geared for children aged 4 to 10 years, this program offers a full evening of entertaining animal-themed fun. Once you drop off your kids, you can rest easy knowing they’re having a good time and being well taken care of. They’ll start off enjoying a pizza dinner, followed by a cool guided walk through the Children’s Zoo to visit animals such as alligators, bats, turtles, frogs, lizards and bugs. They will even get a sneak peek at where the ZooKeepers prepare the food for all the animals of the Zoo. Later, in the auditorium, your kids will be able to participate in a fun game or craft, followed by an ‘animal close-up’, where they get to meet an animal up close and personal. Then, we top off the evening with an exciting animal-themed movie. All this for $30 per child (plus $25 for each additional sibling.) Not bad to ensure some quality couple time on Valentine’s Day.

You can drop off your kids at the Marian Zimmer Auditorium at 5:30 in the evening and stay out till 10:00pm, giving you a full evening to “get away from it all” with dinner, dancing, a movie, or a romantic stroll. And when you come back to pick up your kids, they’ll have plenty of exciting things to share about their evening at the Zoo. And if things take off like we’re expecting, we’re hoping to expand our Parents Night Out program on selected Friday or Saturday evenings at other times during the year. So if you want to have one of those special Valentine’s Days like you used to have, give Oakland Zoo a call and sign your kids up for “Parents’ Night Out.” Then, go out and hit the town. We’ll see you when you get back!