In Search of Orangutans
by | December 17th, 2013

It’s 4:00  in the morning and the rain is pounding. This is not California rain. This is rainforest rain –the sky has unleashed water and just when you thought it could not rain harder, it does. My alarm goes off and Lovesong, my co-leader and I arise. Amazingly, as the sun comes up, the downpour subsides, and yellow rays come through our bungalow window at the Proboscis Lodge on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo. It is an honor to be leading an Oakland Zoo Conservation Expedition to this fascinating part of the planet.

Lovesong, our 13 expedition participants and I have a quick tea and step carefully into the boats awaiting us. We are spending the day with Red Ape Encounters, and are armed with bird books, mammal guides, cameras and binoculars. Our lead guide Ken greets us with a big smile.IMG_7293

First, we listen. The sound of the rainforest in the morning is incredible: such a variety of calls echo across the river. One of our guides can identify the bird species by sound and delights our bird-loving crew. Looking around, we see tall and lacy fig trees, lush vines dripping down 90 feet and light purple flowers blooming high on treetops.  There are so many shades of green.

There, high up in a tree, we spot three white-crowned hornbills. These birds are huge and beautiful, and resemble rock stars with their fancy white feathers poofing from their heads. Two sit on a branch and one swings merrily from a vine, seemingly for the sheer fun of it.

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A large group of Proboscis Monkeys has alighted on a few trees right in front of us and we sit for at least an hour and watch them. Only found in Borneo, these primates are quite unique with their protruding noses, pot bellies and comical sounds. They leap about, always respecting the obviously dominant male.

As the morning heats up, we see silver languar (silver leaf) monkeys, long-tail macaques, a variety of hornbills, and a bird called a jerdon’s baza with a whole rat in his talons.

Our guides steer us to our ultimate hope: an orangutan. In a fig tree, casually snacking we see a mother and her baby, and a fully flanged (with cheek pads) male. We learn that Orang means “man” and Hutan means “forest” in Malay, and we can see why they are named as such. We are now living the dream, and watching these magnificent apes, their red hair lit by the equatorial sun, just being animals in the habitat they were born in. What an amazing day. And it is only 9:00 am.

 

 

It’s Hibernation Time!
by | December 6th, 2013

zena-the-zookeeperHey Kids! Well, it’s about time for some of our animals here at the Zoo to get ready to go into torpor and hibernate for the winter months. When an animal goes into torpor, its heart rate and breathing slow way down, and it is in a state of deep rest.  Hibernation is a kind of torpor that happens when the weather gets cold.  Some animals go into such deep hibernation that they are very difficult to awaken.  These animals don’t eat or drink while they are hibernating.  Others are light hibernators who are still resting, but they are easy to awaken and may even wake themselves up to eat or go to the bathroom.  It’s kind of like they are taking long naps throughout the winter.  Some other animals go into torpor when the weather gets hot.  That kind of torpor is called estivation, but we’ll talk about that some other time.

I used to think that it had to be really cold and snowy for animals to hibernate, but then I found out that that isn’t true.  Even though it doesn’t get really, really cold here in the Bay Area, some of our animals still hibernate for a time during the winter months.  You may be surprised to find out which of our Zoo and Park animals hibernate. Here are just some of them:

  • Snailscollage
  • Bumble Bees
  • Ground Squirrels
  • Brown Bats
  • Raccoons
  • Hedgehogs
  • Skunks
  • Garter snakes
  • Sonoran Desert Toads
  • Box Turtles
  • Hermann’s Tortoises
  • Desert Tortoises
  • Chuckwallas
  • Gila Monsters
  • Desert Spiny Lizards
  • Alligators

So, were you surprised by any of these hibernators? I sure was!  Did it surprise you that our sun bears were not on the list?  Why do you think that might be?  And what about our lions?  Hmmm…that’s something to think about, isn’t it?

Luckily you can still come and see some of our light-hibernating friends throughout the winter, but once they go into torpor, some of our deep hibernators will be fast asleep and out of sight until Spring rolls around again.

Well, seems like there are lots of reasons to get out to the Zoo and visit us as the holiday fun begins.  Until next time, remember – conservation rocks!

Your friend,

Zena the Zookeeper

Holiday Gifts for the Animals
by | November 14th, 2013

zena-the-zookeeper

And our sun bears love Kongs. Sometimes, we even fill them with peanut butter, which is the sun bears’ favorite thing to eat.

And our sun bears love Kongs. Sometimes, we even fill them with peanut butter, which is the sun bears’ favorite thing to eat.

Hey Kids! Zena the Zookeeper here.  It’s holiday time at Oakland Zoo, and I have a question for you: Name something you love getting during the holidays. If you said, PRESENTS! then you and our animals here at the Zoo have something in common.  Our animals love presents too.  And I’m here to tell you, we just love giving presents to them.  The presents we give our animals are called enrichments.  Those are special toys and games that help our animals live like they are back in the wild.  (If you want to learn more about animal enrichments, check out my blog from September called Animal Enrichment is Important to Chimpanzees!)

So, what kinds of presents do our animals like to receive? All kinds! Our chimps love lots of different toys. For example, one of our female chimps just adores plush-toy snakes. She wears them around her neck like a scarf. The ferrets and chinchillas love hanging beds, and the zebras go nuts for Jolly-Ranger balls.  We zookeepers put treats in the balls and watch the zebras happily work to get them out! Check out the picture here of my fellow 20131002_143235zookeeper prepping the balls with molasses and alfalfa for the Zebras to enjoy.20131002_144428

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Luigi the ferret, can spend hours playing hide-and-seek in his alligator bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, just last week we asked people to send presents for some of our Zoo staff headed to Borneo to help out some rescued sun bears over there.   And boy, did everyone help out! We got so many new toys for them – we even have some pictures of the Bornean bears playing with their new presents from Oakland Zoo.

If you’d like to give a present to one of our Zoo animals this holiday season, be sure to check out the wishlist we zookeepers put up on amazon.com .  It lists all the great toys and enrichment we know our animals love to receive.

 

The goats in the Children’s Contact Yard love butting around big, inflatable balls.  I suspect they may be playing some kind of top-secret goat soccer!

The goats in the Children’s Contact Yard love butting around big, inflatable balls. I suspect they may be playing some kind of top-secret goat soccer!

There’s lots to choose from, so I’m sure you’ll find something that will make one of our animals feel wild and wonderful.(Don’t forget to check with an adult before you purchase anything.)

So, until next time, remember – we only have one planet, so let’s all be conservation heroes and take good care of everything on it!

Attention Future Biologists!
by | November 11th, 2013

MollyAtBeachHave you ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a real field biologist, studying wildlife in the great outdoors? What exactly do they do out there with all that cool equipment, anyway? Now, there’s an easy way to find out. Oakland Zoo is proud to introduce its latest educational program, the Field Biology Workshops, where we focus on modern, innovative techniques of field biology and conservation. If you’re a middle or high school student, this could be your opportunity to try your hand at this rewarding career while you’re still in school. And you don’t even have to go anywhere—the Zoo brings it all to your classroom.

The San Diego Institute for Conservation Research (ICR), who offers a summer program for science educators looking to institute their own science programs, was instrumental in helping to get this program off the ground. During a three-day conservation institute for teachers held by ICR, members of the Zoo’s education staff had the opportunity to learn the curriculum and were provided with teaching materials to get started

Here’s how it works. During our engaging one or two-day in-class workshops (an hour each) you’ll get the chance to use modern technology to study wildlife, analyzing real data collected in the field. A good example is with our condor program, the field study that uses GPS technology to track endangered California condors released back into the wild in Baja California and the Ventana Wilderness Area near Big Sur. As a young aspiring scientist, you’ll be asked to analyze data and give thought to the conservation challenges that these animals face in the real world. Using satellite mapping techniques, you’ll study and analyze the condors’ geographic range and make your own decisions about ways to protect it. One of the exercises involves the planning for a proposed wind farm within the condors’ habitat. Based on your analysis of the data, your job is to advise the company on the best place to locate the facility to minimize risk to the birds while still serving the needs of the public.

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One of the goals of the Field Biology Workshops is skill-building. We ask the students to come up with answers to these problems; not necessarily focusing on the right answer, but getting the students to think and work like a scientist. Through this program the Zoo is hoping to expand its educational reach by bridging the demographic between its ZooSchool, Teen Wild Guide and ZooMobile programs, offering educational services to students in middle and high schools. The program is still in the planning stages but we’re hoping to be up and running this school year. To find out more about the Field Biology Workshops, please call our Teen Programs Manager, Melinda Sievert at (510) 632-9525 ext 201. So if you’re a middle or high school student who’s interested in biology or if you know someone who is, give Oakland Zoo a call and get that young scientist onboard with the new Field Biology Workshops. See you at the Zoo!

Toys needed for Sun Bears in Borneo
(Oakland Zoo Conservation Program)

by | October 21st, 2013
sun bear in basket

A rescued Sunbear at the Bornean sunbear conservation Center gets to relax in her basket.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, located in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, rescues sun bears and seeks to rehabilitate bears that may be suitable to return to the wild.

 

Most of the 28 bears in residence at the Centre are victims of the illegal pet trade….mother bears are killed by poachers for their body parts (paws, bile from the gall bladder) and orphaned cubs are often captured and spend their lives in small bare cages without adequate space or proper diet. Many of the bears at the Centre have never walked on grass or been able to climb a tree, a tragedy for these very arboreal bears. The Centre currently has one new bear house built in

Enjoying a new ball

Enjoying a new ball

2010 attached to one hectare (2.5 acres) of forest enclosure, and is in the process of adding a second bear house and forest enclosure. A visitor centre, viewing platform and guest walkway connecting visitors with nearby Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, are all due to be completed in early 2014. Please visit the BSBCC website at www.bsbcc.org.my to learn more and find out how you can support the extraordinary work being done to save the world’s smallest bear species”.

 

 

Pagi, one of Oakland Zoo's sunbears enjoying her Kong.

Pagi, one of Oakland Zoo’s sunbears enjoying her Kong.

Through our fundraising efforts, our support of the BSBCC helps to fund completion of the much-needed rehabilitation facility in Sabah. Oakland Zoo’s own veterinarians have travelled to Malaysia to provide hands-on assistance in moving and providing medical care to the Sun Bears currently being rehabilitated by the BSBCC. Now, on October 31st, Oakland Zoo staff is leading a trip to Borneo very soon and they will be visiting the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. The bears at the center have been rescued as orphans due to poaching and often from the illegal pet trade. In fact, our bear, Ting Ting, was one of those cubs as were both parents of Bulan and Pagi.  The staff at the center would love to be able to provide their bears with “Kong” toys such as Pagi is enjoying. Here at Oakland Zoo, Pagi Bear is enjoying her “Kong” toy enrichment. and our zoo travelers are willing to pack such toys in their luggage for the trip.

Can you help out the bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre by purchasing an Extra Large “Kong” toy to send along with them?

You may purchase these and more on Amazon.com.  Just click here for the items specifically requested for the bears and make sure it will arrive by October 31st.  Thank you for caring about sun bears.

BOO AT THE ZOO!
by | October 21st, 2013

zena-the-zookeepertortoisehalloweenHalloween is almost here, and no one celebrates it better than Oakland Zoo!

Every year, we love to host “Boo at the Zoo!”, so you can come enjoy the Zoo AND Halloween for some spooktacular fun…come dressed in a costume, walk in the costume parade with our Zoo mascot, Roosevelt – I just know he’d love to meet you!

You’ll see your favorite animals, and get yummy treats from stations set up all around the Zoo.

Our animals love Halloween too- know why? Because you, the kids, can create delicious Halloween treats for them to enjoy too at a special station we’ve set up. We’ll have animal presentations through the weekend in our fabulous Wildlife Theatre so you can get up close and personal with some of our really cool creepy, crawly animals too!

ZC S2 LL 087And do you like scavenger hunts? Well, we have a great one waiting for you so if you’re good at finding clues, come join the fun!  How about Science? We’re featuring “Zoombie” animals, monster myths, and sensory skills- touch the foods zoo animals like to eat. Face painting, you ask? Of course! The Oakland Fire Department will be here on Saturday, and the Oakland Police Department will be here on Sunday to greet to and check our your cool costumes too.

So don’t forget to come to the Zoo in your costume so you can get a free ticket in our rides area- and you just HAVE to ride the spooky boo train while you’re here.  That’s all for now, Trick-or-Treat and see you at the Zoo!

Photos from previous years’ “Boo at the Zoo”