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

Big News For Big Birds
by | June 2nd, 2014
Condor in Flight

Condor in Flight

Condors are certainly big news at Oakland Zoo right now with the recent arrival of the first two birds at the newly-opened Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center. As you may know, condors are the highly endangered cousins of the vultures that you see in the skies all over California. And like vultures, condors play a vital role in the ecosystem by feeding on the carcasses of dead animals. When these animals are shot by hunters or ranchers, the lead pellets in turn are ingested by the condors. It takes only a tiny fragment of lead to make a condor very ill. These lead-poisoned birds need medical care in order to survive, which is where the zoo comes in. For the past three years we’ve been working with the Ventana Wildlife Society near Big Sur, California, an organization that has been leading conservation efforts to save the California condor for decades. When a sick bird is spotted in the mountains around Big Sur, it’s carefully captured by Ventana’s condor vets and conservationists and brought to our facility. Once here, it’s treated by specially-trained Oakland Zoo veterinarians who provide treatment for the condor until it is healthy enough to be released back into the wild. And you’ll be happy to know that one of the aforementioned birds has already gotten a clean bill of health and has been returned to her home!
But there’s more to our condor program than medical procedures. In April, a small group of young zoo volunteers had the opportunity of attending a special camp about condors. Held at the research facility within the Ventana Wilderness Area, Condor Camp is a 4-day program that lets people observe and participate in the conservation work being done by the Ventana Wildlife Society. This was the first time kids from the zoo (both Teen Wild Guides and Teen Assistants) had the chance to participate in this exciting program. Over the four days they went on a night walk, spotted condors that were feeding on dead seals and sea lions at the Pacific Ocean, and visited the feeding slope and re-release cages used by the staff. They also got to check out the Condor Cam, the remotely-controlled video camera that allows visual monitoring of the birds from the research center. But most exciting, the kids got to use the radio antennas and other equipment to locate the condors, some of whom regularly migrate between Ventana and their other stronghold at Pinnacles National Monument.

Resting During treatment

Resting During treatment

And then there’s Condor Class. An educational program for middle and high school students, this half-day class held at Oakland Zoo is an on-site version of the new interactive Field Biology Workshops. The 20-30 students (from science classes at a variety of local schools) get the chance to use the high-tech tools of biologists, such as telemetry equipment and GPS units to track the birds, which all have ID tags and their own individual radio frequencies. The students practice with this equipment by finding hidden stuffed animals, study condor data gathered in the field by biologists and make scientific recommendations for the birds’ welfare based on that data.
So as you can see, there’s a lot of condor activity going on at Oakland Zoo these days. Although the birds here aren’t available for public viewing, you can be sure they’re receiving the medical care they need to get them back out in the wild as soon as possible, thus helping to ensure their continued success in returning from the brink of extinction!

It’s Summer (almost)…and we’re ready for ZooCamp!
by | May 29th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperHey kids! So now that you know all about Family Sundown Safari and how you can camp overnight here at the Zoo, let’s talk about our camp that takes place during the day – ZooCamp!! What better way to spend your      summer than learning about animals, nature, meeting new friends and having so much fun you are just wiped out at the end of the day? There different programs for all ages, so don’t worry, from pre-kindergarten all the way through 8th grade, ZooCamp at Oakland Zoo has the perfect program for you! If you’re already in High School we STILL have the perfect program for you. If you love animals and kids then we need your help! Come to camp as a Teen Assistant and spend three weeks playing with kids and helping to lead activities while earning community service hours.14073556282_9a6950f243_b

Middle-schoolers, do you like adventures? Imagine you are on a hike, and suddenly you find yourself lost in the woods-what should you do? Each day, you’ll learn about and practice important survival skills like building a fire, finding food, collecting water, or making a shelter. At the end of the week you’ll have the knowledge to help you survive and you’ll receive your very own emergency survival kit! For Elementary School aged kids, we have an exciting choice of programs for every grade level. From exploring Knowland Park, building forts, looking for native wildlife, and coming nose-to-nose with nature – every day at ZooCamp will be an adventure you’ll never forget.

And guess what else? This year we’re introducing several new programs and features for children of all ages:

  • Our Busy Beasts class (preK, transitional kindergarten, and kindergarten campers) connects our zoo animals to popular story booksFor campers entering
  • First Grade, our Furry Friends class introduces them to some very cool extreme animals
  • Campers entering grades 2-3 will learn all about animal communications in our Animal Adventures sessions
  • Eco-Explorers (grades 4-5) enjoy a unique behind-the-scenes Zoo experience
  • We have updated our Curious Cachers program (campers entering grades 6-8)
  • Starting in 2014, every Thursday at ZooCamp will feature All-Camp Games sessions
  • Our Wildlife Theater is hosting a new show featuring “Pond Turtle Pinko

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All of us at the Zoo are really proud of our ZooCamp program to make sure you  always have an entertaining, engaging, and educational ZooCamp experience! You’ll leave each day with new friends, new memories, and a better understanding of the world around you and the animals that inhabit it!

Moms and Dads, here is what other parents of past seasons have to say about their child’s ZooCamp experience:

ZooCamp has been a wonderful experience for my children. Every afternoon, they came home bubbling over with new information and facts about zoo animals and life in nature. They have been singing ZooCamp songs for weeks! – Kristin K.

My son was hesitant to go, but once he got there he could not stop talking about everything he did when he got home at night! – Teena R.

I was very impressed with the level of professionalism among the staff. They were energetic and knew how to interact with kids. From what I could tell, they had varying appropriate activities for the varying ages. My daughter loved the Survival camp and found the “challenges” very engaging. I have been a high school teacher for 14 years and was impressed with the quick bond that this teacher made with his group over such a short period of time. It was awesome for my son to be with other people who loves animals as much as he does; the teachers’ passions about animals was evident. Thanks for a great program! – Rebecca H.

Zoo Camp was the perfect program for my child. She had fun, made new friends and learned about the importance of animal conservation. I look forward to next summer and participating in more zoo programs throughout the year! Thank you zoo camp! – Carly C.

There are some open spots still available for the 2014 Summer ZooCamp season so sign up today!

http://www.oaklandzoo.org/ZooCamp.php