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!

Life on the Hacienda: Oakland Zoo Teens Get Gardening
by | March 3rd, 2014

In case you hadn’t heard, the Oakland Zoo Teen Wild Guides (or Twigs as we call them) recently participated in a new community program here in Oakland. Trained primarily as weekend interpreters in the Children’s Zoo, this dedicated group of local teen volunteers can also be seen at the tiger, chimp and sun bear exhibits, where they answer questions and provide information about the animals. In their first long-term partnership effort, the TWGs gathered at Hacienda Peralta Historical Park in December to volunteer their services in the park’s native plants garden. This newly-established 6-acre park, located in the Fruitvale District along the banks of Peralta Creek, is one of the most significant historical sites in the East Bay, being one of the earliest European settlements in the area.
On December 8, during one of four national community service days of the year, the TWGs brought their tools, gloves, and tarps to the park for a morning of pulling invasive weeds. During several scheduled days in the spring and summer, the TWGs will be returning to Hacienda Peralta to continue their work, allowing them to witness the development of the garden over time. This program represents a hopeful new direction for the Zoo, involving the TWGs with community institutions that work to promote wildlife conservation.
But this doesn’t end with the tossing out of a bunch of weeds. As it turns out, a great deal of this invasive plant material is edible. So the TWGs transport it back to the Zoo where (after being identified and approved by the staff horticulturists) is fed out to a wide variety of herbivorous animals. (Our giraffes especially like the thorny blackberry vines.) It’s a definite win-win situation.
The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the TWGs who had participated in the gardening at Hacienda Peralta in December. As a 1st year TWG, Tano was proud to be a part of the project: “It was really cool to do habitat restoration. It was fun, with lots of wildlife, but the (blackberry) thorns hurt you.” Tano told me he was excited to have discovered a new type of plant at the park that he hadn’t seen before. “It was wrapped around another plant and appeared to be stealing nutrients from it.” As a passionate devotee of science, Tano impressed me by saying that the person he’d most like to be was Charles Darwin. He even recited one of the famous scientist’s quotes about evolution.
It was gratifying to witness this young man’s passion for science and discovery. It made me realize how important these science education programs are for channeling the energies of today’s youth. As a member of the Oakland Zoo TWGs, Tano definitely seems to be heading in the right direction. So the next time you visit the Zoo, take a moment to say “Hi” to some of the TWGs. You just might be chatting with the next Charles Darwin!

 

 

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.