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.

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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!

 

The Majestic Elephants at Oakland Zoo…
by | January 21st, 2014

Often, we at the Zoo are asked about the history of our majestic and beautiful African elephants. In her blog below, Gina Kinzley, Oakland Zoo Elephant Keeper, shares a little of the history and personalities of Donna, M’Dunda, Osh and Lisa. Now that you know them a bit more intimately, come to the Zoo and say hi! You can also see how Gina ‘trains’ our elephants to for situations involving medical procedures, foot-maintenance, and mental stimulation exercises in this video, filmed recently.

The African Elephants of Oakland Zoo:

All of the girls come from Africa originally, but their families were killed in a culling. Culling is the very controversial method of population management. At that time, the young orphans were caught and sold for profit, which is how they ended up in the United States. I won’t name the previous facilities that they were all at, but all of them have a history of abuse in ‘free contact’ management. At Oakland Zoo, we practice ‘protected contact’, as we explain is for the safety of the both our elephants and their keepers, in the HBO documentary “Apology to Elephants”.

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Donna, 34, came to OZ in 1989. She very quickly became the the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls and loves to have big play bouts at nighttime with large tractor tires and will charge 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.elephantpedi

M’Dunda, 44, came to OZ 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 solicit play from Osh, and is often spotted at night over the fenceline 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 also has long beautiful tusks.

Lisa, 36, has been at OZ since she has been 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, and will take daily dips if the weather is right! She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

Osh, 19, has been at OZ since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born and 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 act toward him, so we gave him a home here. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, loves to play, browse and graze.

At Oakland Zoo we care deeply about the well-being of elephants in captivity, as well as their conservation in the wild. Currently 96 elephants a day in Africa are being killed for their tusks, or ivory. Now that you’ve learned about how intelligent, unique, and beautiful our elephants are here at the zoo, please visit www.96elephants.org for more information on how you can help elephants in the wild. This issue is very important to us, and increasing public awareness is a priority. Stay tuned over the coming months for more information about the fight against the illegal ivory trade and the work of www.96elephants.org.

Food favorites: Pumpkins, Melons, and Pineapples. Want to feed our elephants? Come to our next Feast for the Beasts event on March 29th!

 

 

The Loss of a Lion
by | January 13th, 2014

Oakland Zoo is proud of and inspired by the work we do with conservation partners dealing with human-wildlife conflict. We are thrilled that our own volunteers have stepped up with such passion to engage in solutions with these partners. Volunteer Carol Moen Wing shares her experiences with one of our current Quarters for Conservation partners, the Uganda Carnivore Program, which helps conserve African lions.

by Carol Moen Wing, Oakland Zoo  and Uganda Carnivore Program Volunteer

                    The news came via e-mail, from half a world away: Fiona and her family were dead.  I felt a deep sense of sadness as I read Dr. Siefert’s message — “Fiona’s group is no more.  We found, after many days and a few nights, her and her cubs’ carcass; most likely poisoned…”  Just a few months earlier, I had been sitting on the roof of the Uganda Carnivore Program’s research vehicle with Dr. Siefert’s assistant James, watching the lioness Fiona and her two cubs as they rested high in the spiny limbs of a euphorbia tree in Queen Elizabeth National Park.  The cubs, Haraka and her brother Saba, had climbed quite a bit higher than their mom and were peering through the thick green branches at us, curiosity evident in the prick of their ears and the flick of their little tails.  Fiona-cub-Haraka

 

From this close vantage point, I could see the soft sheen of their fur and smell the musky warm scent of the big cats.  Finally caution got the best of them and they climbed even higher and deeper into the shelter of the tree, while their mother continued to snooze on a big branch below, hardly bothering to open her one good eye and acknowledge our presence.  Reading the news from Uganda now, it was hard to imagine that they were all gone. Fiona+cubs

And yet, I was not surprised.  Late last summer Fiona had moved her family into one of the most dangerous regions of the national park, where wildlife frequently come into conflict with local people.  This is where we had tracked them, in the Crater region not far from several large villages.  Tough old Fiona was a bit of a legend: she survived the loss of an eye in 2001 while hunting a buffalo, and still managed to be a successful hunter and excellent mother to many offspring throughout the years.  At one point she’d even moved her small cubs into the shelter of an abandoned building, a crumbling structure with decorations around the missing roofline that made it look like a small palace — Dr. Siefert had pointed it out to us on our drive.  For many years she had lived in the Mweya Peninsula area of the park, and had only moved into the Crater region because of increasing pressure to find territory unclaimed by younger lions.  In other words, she was just being a good mom, looking for a safe place to raise her cubs.  Could she have known that another lion pride had been poisoned by villagers in this same area not long ago?

 

This is one of the most difficult challenges in wildlife conservation: human-wildlife conflict.  Animals and people are competing for limited resources, for land and food and water, and too often it is the large predator species such as lions, leopards and spotted hyenas that end up in the worst conflict situations with a rapidly-growing human population.  Queen Elizabeth National Park is not unique in this sense, but it does have an even greater challenge than other parts of Africa because human settlements are located both around the borders and within the park itself.  There are 11 enclave villages with a total population of 50,000 people living inside the park, and many more in towns and villages just beyond its unfenced boundaries.  The depletion of prey species such as antelope (due to habitat loss and poaching) motivates wild predators to seek an easier meal such as a goat or cow.  To make things worse, people unwittingly encourage the predation of their livestock by illegally grazing their animals on park land and building flimsy, easily accessible corrals for their animals to sleep in at night.  Little wonder that a lion like Fiona would kill an easy target like a cow to feed her family.

 

Most local people living in and around the park do not see lions and other predators as beautiful creatures worth saving — rather, these animals are viewed as direct threats to the security and livelihood of human families.  In response to livestock predation, people will frequently retaliate by poisoning animal carcasses and leaving them out for the lions, hyenas and leopards to consume (not to mention other unlucky passersby such as vultures).  For cattle-keepers, a good lion is a dead lion.  On a basic level we all understand it: people want to protect their families, their livelihood and food security, particularly in a place as impoverished as Uganda.  “Not in my backyard,” as they say (even here in California).  But we also know that an ecosystem will suffer and eventually collapse without its predator and scavenger species.

 

The loss of individual lions like Fiona, Haraka and Saba may not seem like much in the big scheme of things, but considering the current conservation status of their species every loss is significant; fewer than 30,000 lions remain in all of Africa, and the lion population has declined by 30% over the last 20 years.  African lions are now officially classified as “vulnerable, with a decreasing population trend.”  In Queen Elizabeth National Park the statistics are even more grim, with fewer than 150 lions present.  Leopards are threatened as well, and spotted hyenas have suffered the greatest population loss of all the large predators in the region.

 

The Uganda Carnivore Program, one of the Oakland Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation partners, has been working hard to find solutions to these problems and mitigate human-wildlife conflict through community outreach and education, as well as using radio collars to monitor predators’ movements into conflict hot spots.  Dr. Ludwig Siefert and his Senior Research Assistant, James Kalyewa, work tirelessly to protect lions, leopards and hyenas by tracking and collecting data on the predator populations, as well as working with local people to find solutions that will protect their communities and their valuable livestock from predation.  The UCP’s efforts have had a positive impact in other areas in and around the national park.  For example, in the past lions had frequently been poisoned near the village of Hamukungu.  The UCP has been working with the village leaders for the past year to design safer, predator-proof livestock corrals, including solar lighting to scare away potential predators at night, and to educate people about the importance of predator species in their environment.  Since this partnership began, no lions have been poisoned in Hamukungu, even though there have been instances of livestock predation.  And in the village of Muhokya, where leopards have been preying on goats, the UCP has worked with the local community to establish a conservation education center and a cultural- and conservation-based tourism initiative called Leopard Village, in thanks for the community’s willingness to learn to live with wildlife and protect it rather than destroy it.  It is significant that Fiona was poisoned in an area that the UCP is not currently working with the community, due to limited funding and manpower… and that other lions are likely to move into this area now that she is gone.

 

The loss of Fiona and her last two cubs is discouraging to all of us who care about African wildlife, but we must keep working toward solutions.  Conservation is not just something that happens somewhere far away, someone else’s problem, particularly when we consider that some parts of the world have more resources and ability to help wildlife than others.  Even if you never met Fiona and her cubs, the Earth is an increasingly small backyard and the loss of a species has an effect on us all, and on future generations.  Conservation is personal.  As for Fiona, despite her tragic end she had a good life for a wild lion, surviving 15 years in a dangerous environment and successfully raising many other cubs to adulthood.  We can mourn her loss, but we must also look to the predator populations of Queen Elizabeth National Park as a whole — lions, leopards and spotted hyenas — and continue striving to find the best possible solutions for the challenges of human-wildlife conflict.

 

Please join us to learn more and support the Uganda Carnivore Program on Wednesday January 15, 2014 at Oakland Zoo’s Conservation Speaker Series Saving the Savannah event.

Fulong Means Forest: Our Time with Sun Bears
by | January 3rd, 2014

Time with Bears:

Fulong means forest in Lundayieh, a tribal language in Borneo. A tiny sun bear cub, the smallest of all bear species, was found in the forest by a hunter’s dog and brought to the master who gave him the name Fulong.  The man kept the bear in a cage as a pet — but when he found out he could give her a better life, he relinquished her to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where we sat this morning in rapt attention as Gloria, the head of education, told us the history of some of the beautiful sun bears at the centre.Bear2

Sun bears and the work of Siew Te Wong was our inspiration to embark on a conservation expedition to Borneo in the first place. We have been in full support of his efforts to give a wonderful home to sun bears that all have a different conservation back story. This new center is right next to the Sepilok Orangutan Center and sure to be a hit. Many visitors to Borneo know about Orangutans, and now many will know about this amazing bear.BearGifts

After six years of helping Wong work as the founder and raise funds for this center, it is a THRILL for our group to be here to help them get ready for their soft opening to the public in January. After a survey of our skills and their needs — Gloria and I put together a schedule – and we rolled up our sleeves and got to work!IMG_7531

What a day we are having! In the rain and heat, one group is moving gravel with shovels and wheelbarrows, watching for venomous snakes and tiger leeches. Another is in the bear house, chopping diets of banana, papaya, green beans – and heating an oatmeal-like super nutritious bear meal. Some even enjoy cleaning the night houses in this sparkling new facility.IMG_7523

Carol and Jereld are off with Ling Mai to set up camera traps. We then work with her to create a matrix for observing bears which we will try out this afternoon. Diana then helps create a program to illustrate the data that will be gathered. Carol and Rob sit together at a laptop editing copy for the educational signage for hours and hours, quite happily. Tina then gives her ideas around signage design. We hardly want to break for lunch, but we do, ‘cause it is hot and we have worked up quite an appetite.IMG_7650

After lunch with the bear staff, Lovesong and Mary go off with the bear keepers, exchanging stories and ideas on how to best care for a sun bear. A crew works with Gloria to envision the visitor center’s future displays and interactives. Another crew gathers around Ernie to discuss the gift shop and other ways to bring in extra funds to the program. Apparently t-shirts and postcards are the big sellers, but creativity is flowing. I get to download about education programs, volunteer positions and conservation action and messaging. I also got the pleasure of taking portraits of the staff for their website.
IMG_7658As the afternoon rolls along, I feel so fortunate to have gotten to be here on this day atthis time in the center’s history. What a joy to share what we could with them, and how inspiring to meet this talented and dedicated staff who shared so much with us. We are all lucky, especially bears like Fulong!