The REAL Lemurs of Oakland Zoo!
by | April 3rd, 2014
Jennifer

Ring Tailed Lemur at Oakland Zoo

“Look!  King Julian!”

“I like to move it, move it! I like to move it, move it!”

These are just a few phrases I often hear when I’m working in the lemur exhibit here at Oakland Zoo.  While movies such as “Madagascar” and “The Lion King” may foster an interest of wild animals in their young audience, they don’t provide any actual knowledge of the animals starring in them.

And that’s where I get to perform one of the cool parts of my job as a keeper- to interact with our guests and provide actual facts about these amazing beings!

First I get to tell them there would not be a King Julian in lemur society!  There would be a Queen Julianne instead.  Just like several other awesome species such as elephants, meerkats and hyenas, lemurs are matriarchal, which means the ladies are in charge! And in our troop of ring-tailed lemurs, Amy is the boss!

While observing our lemurs look for the lemur that is always paying attention to everyone else, whose tail is always pointing straight up or forward and who is always first at meal time- that’s Amy. She will be the one who decides where to forage, when to sit in the sun and when to groom.  Her twin daughters Kristina and Jennifer along with their buddy Jaeger defer to her decisions about their daily life.  If not, she may deliver a stern look or possibly chase the misbehaving individual if necessary.  Notice the body posture of the other lemurs.  Because Amy is always on duty, they can be a little more relaxed, with their tails curled over their backs in a question mark as they forage, groom or sun themselves.

Next, I tell our guests lemurs DO like to move it!  But our lemurs don’t move it just for the fun of it- they move to live!  Wild animals have jobs to do.  Their job is to protect their territory, find food and a safe place to live and raise their young.  In the wild this is a full time job.  In captivity, many of these normal behaviors are fulfilled by their keepers- we provide them with a safe place to live, the right diet and social group.  The keeper’s job is to find ways in which the animals in our care can perform these natural behaviors.  We call it “enrichment”.  Enrichment encompasses a wide variety of options and can include;

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Lead Keeper Elizabeth Abram training a Sclater’s or Blue-Eyed Lemur.

Manual manipulation- We may put their diet in a “puzzle feeder” or boxes so they have to use physical and mental skills to get their food.

Changes in their environment – We can move or change the “furniture” in their exhibit to keep their environment complex and stimulating.

Sensory stimulation – straw or bedding from another animal enclosure, or even spices or perfume, can be put into their exhibit to add novel  and unique experiences.

Feeding options- a keeper may scatter an animal’s diet in the grass or skewer items onto branches throughout their exhibit, so the animal will have to forage to find their diet items, allowing the them to feed in a natural manner.

And the list can go on and on! These are just a few of the many ways keepers provide necessary and very important enrichment activities, providing the proper psychological wellbeing for our animals.  I think I can speak for the rest of my coworkers- enrichment is one of the favorite aspects of our jobs!

Next time you are visiting Oakland Zoo, take a moment to check out our lemurs moving it around our exhibit.  Is Queen Amy leading the troop to forage in the plum trees or initiating a mutual grooming session?  Has their keeper given them their diet in a box or scattered it about their exhibit?  If it’s a sunny day you might see them sitting in a “Buddha” like pose- soaking up the springtime sun! No matter what, you’re bound to see real lemurs “moving it” just like real lemurs should!

Do you want to get up close and personal with our lemurs here at the Zoo? Purchase a raffle ticket (or two!) to win such a one-of-a-kind experience! During your visit, our lemurs will actually paint a work of art for you to keep. Email genny@oaklandzoo.org to purchase tickets. All proceeds from the raffle go to conservation of lemurs in the wild.

 

 

Leaping Lemurs!
by | March 25th, 2014
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Ring-tailed lemurs at Oakland Zoo

Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa, is a beautiful hotspot for biodiversity.  It is estimated that 90% of the plants and animals living in Madagascar are endemic, meaning they occur nowhere else in the world!  Unfortunately, the island nation (about the size of the state of Texas) and its inhabitants are facing some extreme threats.

While it may be rich in biodiversity, the Malagasy people are among the poorest in the world.  It is estimated that over 92% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.  A military coup in 2009 caused further economic instability, and the subsequent anarchy increased the illegal logging of rosewood.  One of the few reliable sources of income, thousands of Malagasy people flocked to the rosewood forests to support their families.  In addition to the problem of rapid deforestation, many people turned to lemurs as a source of protein, illegally hunting them for bush meat.

Eugene

Sclater’s or Blue Eyed lemur at Oakland Zoo. Photo Credit: Anthony C. Brewer

Lemurs are the most endangered mammals in the world.  Of the 101 species of lemur in Madagascar, IUCN considers 60 of them endangered or critically endangered.  Another 20 species are considered vulnerable.  Lemurs are prosimians, meaning that they are primates, but still maintain many “primitive” characteristics of other mammals such as the bicornate uterus.  Like other primates, they do possess opposable thumbs and fingernails rather than claws.    Oakland Zoo houses two species of lemurs, Ring-tailed lemurs and Sclaters or Blue-Eyed lemurs.  Blue eyed lemurs have been listed as one of the 25 most endangered primates for over 6 years.

Conserving lemurs is critically important for the biodiversity of Madagascar.  While logging of Rosewood is illegal, the political unrest that has been extant in Madagascar for over 4 years has allowed it to not only continue, but to increase.  Rosewood is valued for its rich color and hard texture, making it good for furniture.  While the supply comes from Madagascar, the demand for this wood is right here in the US and throughout the western world.  Recently, the Malagasy people elected a president and hopes are high that a stable government system will rein in the illegal logging and poaching practices that have become commonplace.

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Two of Oakland Zoo’s lemurs actually painting!

However, the fact remains that rosewood is mainly sold to westerners.  If the demand were lower or nonexistent, the motivation for deforestation would be almost nonexistent.  So what can you do to protect lemurs in Madagascar?  Do not purchase furniture made from rosewood, and educate your friends and family about the plight of the lemurs.  Email or call Genny Greene (genny@oaklandzoo.org or call (510)632-9529 ext. 167) to learn how you can win a special Behind-the-Scenes visit with our very own lemurs here at Oakland Zoo. Your special visit will include an actual in-person live painting made by our lemurs made just for you. All proceeds will go to lemur conservation efforts in Madagascar (see below for more detailed information). And don’t forget to go see the new IMAX film – Island of the Lemurs which opens on April 4th.

**All proceeds from the raffle benefit lemur conservation through Centre Val Bio.  Centre Val Bio is a research station in Madagascar run by Dr. Patricia Wright who has been studying lemurs for more than two decades.  She is the founder of Centre Val Bio and the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments which led to the establishment of Ranomafauna National Park in Madagascar.  Dr. Wright was the sole scientific advisor for the upcoming IMAX film “Island of the Lemurs” which will be released on April 4th.  For more information:   http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/centre-valbio/index.html

Celebrate Earth Day with a Party for the Planet!
by | March 25th, 2014

Imagine you and your family and friends on a beautiful spring day dancing to live music, building with pine cones, learning to juggle,  meeting your next feline or canine family member and having a ball all while helping the planet? This is how Oakland Zoo celebrates Earth Day!Earthday 2007_123

Humans around the globe have been celebrating their connection to and reverence of the planet for centuries. It makes sense that our modern society would create a day such as Earth Day: a special day set aside to appreciate and take action for our one precious planet. Earth Day was first officially celebrated in the United States in 1970, and is now celebrated in nearly 200 countries each year.

Oakland Zoo also feels that the Earth is indeed something to celebrate, and therefore we produce one of the largest Earth Day events in the East Bay.  This year our event is on Saturday, April 19th and we are calling it a Party of the Planet.

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Earth Day fits our mission perfectly: To inspire respect for and stewardship of the natural world while creating a quality visitor experience. What could be more inspiring than making a genuine connection with over fifty visiting organizations who work to help animals and the environment?  Other inspiring experiences will include creating with natural objects in the Create with Nature Zone and making beaded necklaces that help the lives of people and chimpanzees. Quality experiences will be had by all, such as a full day of educational shows in the Clorox Wildlife Theater with live animals, the Jug Bandits Band and Wildlife Action Trivia. Quality fun will be bountiful the meadow with our giant earth ball, circus antics, face painting and a real trapeze show with Trapeze Arts.

Other highlights of Earth Day include: a free train ride with donation of used cell phone or ink cartridge, voting for your favorite conservation project at the Quarters for Conservation voting station, Oakland Zoo docent and eduction stations, and of course, visiting our resident animals.

To further walk the talk, Oakland Zoo will be hosting our monthly Creek Crew clean up of Arroyo Viejo Creek on the grounds from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM.DSCN1072

We are thrilled to welcome the following organizations to join us this year: 96 Elephants, Africa Matters, All One Ocean, Amazon Watch, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Animal Rescue Foundation, Aquarium of the Bay, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Bay Localize, Bay Area Puma Project, Budongo Snare Removal Project, the Borneo Project, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Wolf Center, Circus Moves, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Create with Nature Zone, East Bay Co-Housing, East Bay SPCA, Eco-Viva, Go Wild Institute, Handsome in Pink, Kids for the Bay, KQED, Marine Mammal Center, Marshall’s Farm Honey, Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, Mickacoo Pigeon and Dove Rescue, Mountain Lion Foundation, Mountain Yellow Legged Frog Project, Northern Light School, Oakland Veg, Pachas Pajamas, Performing Animal Welfare Society, Pesticide Free Zone, Project Coyote, Rainforest Action Network, Red Panda Network, Reticulated Giraffe Project, River Otter Ecology Project, Samasheva, Save the Frogs, Savenature.org, Stopwaste.org, Sulfur Creek Nature Center, San Francisco Seafood Watch Alliance, Uganda Carnivore Program, Trapeze Arts, Ventana Wildlife Society, WildAid and the Western Pond Turtle Project.

You will need a full day to experience all this inspiration and fun! We hope to see you out there on April 19th!

Learning how to train animals…
by | March 10th, 2014
Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

I recently had the privilege of attending a workshop on Contemporary Animal Training and Management hosted by

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Natural Encounters, Inc. in Florida.  It was an amazing educational experience, and I honestly can’t stop thinking about it.

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

The 5 day workshop followed a format that balanced both theoretical presentations and practical hands-on training sessions. Experienced animal trainers and animal behavior scientists were on hand to share their expertise and answer our endless list of questions.  I got the opportunity to network with dozens of other zoo professionals, dog trainers, and companion parrot owners.  The challenge after any workshop, conference, or seminar that I participate in is applying my new or improved skills with the animals that I work with at the Oakland Zoo.  Fortunately, this challenge is the reason I love my job!

You may be wondering why we bother with animal training, who we train, or how we train.  Training has been described as the ultimate form of enrichment.  The application of enrichment seeks to stimulate our animals both physically and mentally while also empowering them to make their own choices and control their environments.  Perhaps that’s a bit of a “wordy” description of the concept.  Bottom line is the animal gets to exercise their brain and often their body by doing something…anything really.  At the Oakland Zoo, we do all kinds of training with all kinds of animals.  Leonard, our male African lion, is trained to place his paw on an x-ray plate and hold still for x-rays.  Tiki, one of our Reticulated giraffe, is trained to present her feet for hoof trimmings and acupuncture treatments. Torako, one of our tigers, is trained to position her tail through a hatch so that Zookeepers can safely draw blood from a vein in her tail.  The flock of Red-bellied Parrots in our Savannah Aviary exhibit are trained to perch on particular stations so that Zookeepers can examine them daily.

You may be noticing a theme.  Many of our training goals seek to empower the animal to willingly and eagerly participate in their own husbandry and medical care.  All of these animals have the choice to walk away in the middle of a training session if they want.  Ultimately, this allows the animal AND the Zookeeper to function in a low-stress, highly reinforcing tandem.  The animal is having fun, and the Zookeeper is having fun!

Thanks for reading!  I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures from the Contemporary Animal Training and Management workshop.

It Takes A Village: Hope for Mountain Lions
by | March 3rd, 2014

What a primal joy to awake each morning on the east side of the Bay Bridge in the beautiful Bay Area and know that somewhere up in the hills, quietly walking, sleeping, purring or chirping, caring for cubs, or hunting –  are lions. Lions! Known as mountain lion, cougar, puma and panther, the elusive “cat of one color” has inspired more names—40 in English alone— than any other animal in the world. The mountain lion is the biggest wild cat in North America and has the largest geographic range of any carnivore in the Western Hemisphere.  Mountain lions can be found from the Yukon to the southern Andes. Here in the Bay Area, lions are known to roam the Santa Cruz Mountains, and varies ranges in the East Bay, near me.

Chris Wilmers, a professor of environmental studies at the University of California Santa Cruz, is leading a team of scientists on the so-called Bay Area Puma Project, which hopes to tag mountain lions to study their movements, range, habits and physiology.

Chris Wilmers, a professor of environmental studies at the University of California Santa Cruz, is leading a team of scientists on the so-called Bay Area Puma Project, which hopes to tag mountain lions to study their movements, range, habits and physiology.

Our mountain lions are much different than African lions in that they are solitary and maintain territories that average 100 square miles in size. Males are highly protective of their large domains and will fight to defend it. A fortunate mountain lion can live a 10-12 year life in the wild. They eat deer and other small mammals which helps keep ecosystems balanced and healthy.

The status of mountain lions is very much in question. Though true populations in the United States, Mexico, Central and South America is virtually unknown, experts estimate 30,000 in the United States. Per the Mountain Lion Foundation’s sources, the California’s statewide population of mountain lions is approximately 4,000 animals and dropping.

As mountain lion habitat is increasingly fragmented and movement corridors are blocked by human development, more sightings and encounters with mountain lions are causing challenges.  Mountain lions are being killed more often by cars and depredation permits (issued when livestock or pets are attacked), and increasing news reports of mountain lion encounters are driving growing public concern for both people and the cats.

As the Conservation Director at Oakland Zoo, I work very closely with wildlife conservation issues all over the world, and habitat loss and the resulting human-wildlife conflict is a challenge we all share, whether that is elephants, tigers, African lions or our own apex predator. I have learned that it takes all stakeholders coming together to truly offer hope for these species.

Now, for the good news: in the Bay Area, mountain lions have friends. One of these friends is the Bay Area Puma Project, who is bringing their international cat research expertise home to the East bay with the aim of understanding these cats and improving our local co-existence with them. Oakland Zoo supports these efforts (they were our Quarters for Conservation project in 2013) and is excited to share their expertise with our public on March 5th at our Conservation Speaker Series event, Saving the Puma.

Other advocates are the Mountain Lion Foundation, the East Bay Regional Park District, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, to name a few.

On New Year’s Day, Senate Bill 132 went into effect, which allows the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with nongovernmental groups in capturing, tranquilizing or relocating the animals. With this new bill, and the new and improved policies of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, wardens and their supporting organizations will capture or scare off mountain lions unless they pose an imminent threat to people or public safety. Oakland Zoo is honored to help with this progressive effort.

In fact, Oakland Zoo has embraced mountain lion conservation in many ways. As we join forces with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we are committed to both participate in response to mountain lion conflict calls, and to offer care for a mountain lion in need of recovery before it is hopefully released back into the wild. We are also assisting the Bay Area Puma Project with their vital research and launching various outreach and education programs to create greater mountain lion awareness.

What a joy to look out into those hills and feel thanks to working alliances, our own conservation village, there is hope for a peaceful co-existence with our very own native lion.

Helpful links about Mountain Lions and more

 

Zena the ZooKeeper
by | March 3rd, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperHey Kids! Zena the ZooKeeper here to talk about what you can do for wildlife conservation!  With Earth Day coming up, what better time is there? I’m sure you already do things to help wildlife all year round; like picking up litter around your school or local park, so animals don’t get sick trying to eat it.  Or not bothering wildlife like baby birds in their momma’s nest, and always recycling to stop wasting things, and to reduce the amount of trash we make.palmoilkidsposter

Those things are great to do, and today I’m going to tell you about some things you can do that maybe you haven’t even thought of yet. Part of helping wildlife is being a compassionate consumer.  That means buying products that don’t hurt animals or wildlife.  Like avoiding food made with unsustainable Palm oil.  Did you know that people sometimes tear down the rainforest to build Palm oil plantations, where they plant and grow thousands of palm trees?  This is happening right now with the tropical forests of Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia, where the rainforest is home to orangutans, tigers, sun bears and millions of other species of wildlife.  Once a rainforest is destroyed in order to plant palm trees, its habitat is ruined and these animals’ very existence is threatened!

But there is good news. There are companies that plant palm trees in a way that doesn’t ruin the rainforest and destroy habitat.  These companies grow and sell sustainable Palm oil  that doesn’t result in the loss of important habitat. Learn more about how to shop smart and buy products that use only sustainable Palm oil on our website. You can also download a poster for kids about Palm oil and how it is related to helping elephants.

Another important thing you can do to help animals is to never release pets into the wild. Sometimes people don’t understand how much care and work a certain kind of pet may need, and when they find they can’t take care of it, they just leave it outdoors somewhere.  That’s really sad.  Because the pet is not native to the new habitat, it usually dies or starts killing other animals or eats plants or destroys nesting sites which can really hurt the environment.

An example of this involves the Western Pond Turtle (WPT). Some people decided they didn’t want their pet turtles anymore and released them into the wild, where they were a non-native species and preyed on the WPT and its food sources. To help conserve the WPT, Oakland Zoo has a head-starting program to help rebuild the WPT population.  Learn all about it here.

So, be sure you research online and find out all about the kind of pet you want before committing to it.  And when choosing the right pet for you, always consider getting a rescued animal and please don’t choose a primate or other exotic pet.

And of course, educate others about conservation! If everyone does their part, then we can all be conservation heroes and change the world for all wildlife and humans alike!