Posts Tagged ‘animal education’

BeeYond the Sting: The Importance of Bees in Our World

by | April 24th, 2015

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word “bee?” Do you think of some pesky, stinging insect? Or do you see the bigger picture, appreciating how absolutely amazing they are and how much they contribute to the natural ecosystem? Sure, they produce honey. But there’s a lot more to bees than that. In fact, bees are among the most beneficial members of the animal community. They’re responsible for pollinating a long list of fruits, vegetables and nuts—crops that the entire world depends upon. Without bees, we humans would be in big trouble. But do you know what? Bees themselves are in big trouble. Their populations have been plummeting in recent years—a problem that’s almost exclusively human-caused. So they need our help.

Ready to work with the Bees

Ready to work with the Bees

What’s this got to do with Oakland Zoo? Well, the zoo has been considering starting its own bee program, similar to the ones at Happy Hollow Zoo, Coyote Point Museum, and the San Francisco Zoo. So recently, several members of the zoo’s education staff went on a field trip in Redwood City to visit the home of a man who knows quite a bit about bees. In fact, he’s a beekeeper. Richard Baxter of Round Rock Honey has been raising honeybees for 25 years now and even holds classes on the subject. On February 15th, Education Animal Interpretive Program Manager Felicia Walker and Olivia Lott, the lead Education Specialist for our Creek and Garden programs, attended one of these three-hour beekeeping courses. I recently had a chance to meet with Felicia and find out what she learned.

For one thing, honeybees are not native to this area. Although many types of bees can be found here, the species that produce honey originated in Africa before migrating to Europe and Asia. Then in the 1600s, Europeans introduced them to America. They’ve done very well here until recently, when environmental threats started seriously reducing their numbers.

The most critical of these threats is the use of pesticides—both in agriculture and at home. That’s often the problem with chemical-based solutions to problems: While trying to control harmful pests, we often harm beneficial animals in the process. For this reason Mr. Baxter uses strict organic methods in his beekeeping operations. In fact for the last 25 years, he’s been doing everything he can to ensure that bee populations rebound, like setting up additional bee hives for friends and at various public places in the area. He also sells the products that his own bees produce, such as beeswax, pollen, and honey as well as household products like soap, lotion, candles and lip balm that are made from these materials.

Hive frame being removed

Bees on a hive frame

The zoo’s education department hopes to make its own contribution by installing bee hives here at the zoo and in the surrounding park sometime in the future, utilizing the existing floral gardens as a natural environment. The zoo hopes to hold classes to teach the public about the importance of bees, for example through pollinator workshops that demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between various animals and the plant community.

Given the important role that bees play in our world you might be asking, “What can I do to help?” Mr. Baxter suggests three things that people can do. 1) Don’t use pesticides in your garden. 2) Become a beekeeper. 3) Join a local beekeeping guild. Remember, by advocating for bees you not only help them, but you also help all of us as well. So stay tuned to Oakland Zoo’s website for news. Hopefully you’ll be seeing some busy little additions to our zoo family soon!

Keeper of the Little Critters

by | April 28th, 2011

 

Chris in her Element

There’s a part of the zoo you’ve probably never seen, and most likely have never even heard of. Tucked away behind the Education Center, it’s known simply as the Animal Room. That’s a pretty ordinary name for part of a zoo, but it’s got a unique function. It’s where all the Education Department animals live—the ones used for programs such as Zoo Camp, Zoomobile, Wildlife Theater, scout programs and birthday parties. These animals don’t simply hang out at the Zoo, waiting for visitors to come by. They go out and do the visiting themselves, traveling throughout the Bay Area. And for the last six years, these special animals have been looked after by a special keeper named Chris.

Preparing animal diets

It’s Chris’ job to see that these animals are taken care of and ready for their important job as ambassadors for the Zoo. There’s a lot of coming and going in the Animal Room, so it takes a good system to keep everything running smoothly. Her day begins before 8 o’clock, when she does a preliminary visual check of all her animals (which total nearly three dozen.) Here, she looks for things that indicate their well-being, such as how much food was consumed overnight and if enrichment items were used– also noting their appearance and behavior. Later, during the daily business of feeding and cleaning, Chris has ample opportunity to get a more in-depth look at her animals. She makes sure to handle each one at least once a day to keep them well acclimated to being touched.

Animal Room Tags

Communication with Zoo staff is crucial. Since she’s routinely in and out of the room during the course of her day, Chris needs to make sure that all the pertinent information about the animals is passed on to those who’ll be handling them. With the Animal Availability Board, she posts such things as who’s just been fed, who’s currently under medical observation and which snakes are “in shed” (shedding their skin.)  As a back-up, Chris uses a series of color-coded tags attached to the cages which further indicate issues with particular animals. This way, animals that need to be left alone for a while are not accidentally taken out on a program and handled. In return, the Education staff uses another series of tags to indicate to Chris the specific location of each animal that’s currently out in the field. This way, she won’t think that a hedgehog hopped out and took a walk around the Zoo if she noticed that its cage was empty.

Tagged Cage

 

What types of animals does Chris take care of? She’s got snakes, parrots, turtles, frogs, hedgehogs, and even giant African millipedes. And where do they go? In the ZooMobile program, they go to schools, senior centers and private birthday parties at homes throughout the greater East Bay– as far away as Livermore, Newark and Sunol. But before they can take these animals off Zoo grounds or even handle them here on the premises, the Education staff needs to go through a 3-part training and certification process for each individual species, which Chris oversees.

 

Training Staff about Owls

Chris also trains other staff in animal handling, including docents, interns, apprentices, and Twigs (teen volunteers.) She also sends out weekly emails to the Education staff in the form of Animal Room Updates. And in her spare time, she does research on possible new animals for her collection. But despite her heavy workload and numerous responsibilities, Chris finds her job very rewarding. So the next time you enjoy one of the Oakland Zoo’s many animal programs, think of Chris, the person who

Saying Good Morning!

helped make it possible!

A Snack for a Parrot