Posts Tagged ‘Animal Welfare’

Just say Let Me Think Critically for a Moment to Palm Oil – In Preparation for Valentines Day

by | January 28th, 2016

The issue with palm oil is complex and evolving. It is true, forests have been devastated by the clearing of habitat in order to plant the oil palm plant, a plant grown commercially in rain-forests primarily in Borneo and Sumatra. These forests were home to tigers, sun bears, elephants and orangutans. Tragically, the industry poses a threat to these and other species, as much of it uses deforestation practices that are destructive to these animals’ delicate habitat. Ten years ago, biologists and environmentalistzoo grounds green signs 029ts were all encouraging a complete ban of the plant. It would be nice if it were that simple.

Endangered Sun Bear

Endangered Sun Bear

Palm oil is now in over 50 % of packaged goods like food, cosmetics and soap. According to most of the same biologists and environmentalists, it is here to stay, and is now best to use your purchasing choices as power to drive sustainable and responsible practices.

Responsible palm oil is produced without contributing to rain forest or peat land destruction, species extinction, greenhouse gas emissions or human rights abuses. Food manufacturing companies need transparent and traceable supply chains from the plantation where the palm oil was sourced to the final product on your grocery store shelf. There should also be requirements around what palm oil is called on the label, as there are currently dozens of acceptable names that lead to further confusion.

lableOn a bright note, there has also been much progress in awareness and positive action. Many organizations are doing their share to encourage industry change and increase public outreach. The Round-table for Sustainable Palm Oil is a start on the road to doing right, but it is our hope that the standards are increased for companies that produce, trade and use palm oil.

Individual actions truly matter when it comes to helping those sun bears, tigers and orangutans. You can help by reading labels when you shop. Choose products that don’t use palm oil (Palmitic acid, Palm kernel oil, Palm kernel) or that opt to use sustainable “orangutan friendly” palm oil. Explore companies that are part of the Round-table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and learn all you can about this complicated conservation issue.






This Valentine’s Day season and every day, use the following lists and smart phone apps to help you be sweet to the beautiful animals that will survive only if humans stop, learn and think critically.

  • Purchase items that do not use palm oil or that use sustainable palm oil only
  • Support companies that have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) by downloading the Palm Oil Shopping Guide for iPhones and Android smartphones. You can also download this cool Palm Oil Fact Sheet for kids too
  • Use your power as a consumer: Write to your favorite restaurants and companies. Let them know that you care about orangutans, sun bears, gibbons and their rainforest home, and that your concern is reflected in products you are willing to buy. Ask them to join the RSPO if they haven’t done so already. We have a sample letter you can use for your convenience
  • Go see wild orangutans, sun bears, gibbons. Your tourist dollars make the rainforests worth more standing than cut down for plantations. Check out Hutan Project and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
  • Write to your local legislators and the President. Ask them not to explore palm oil as a biofuel option. Cutting down rainforests to grow palm oil is not a “green” substitute for gasoline
  • Write to Indonesian and Malaysian government officials. Ask them to preserve their precious natural resources. They are the only countries in the world that have wild orangutans!
  • Get involved in organizations that are purchasing land for conservation in affected areas
  • Learn more at

Fragile Felines!

by | July 9th, 2015

world lion day3


Lions are the top predators within their territories; however, even they are not exempt from the pressures of the changes taking place in the world. As human encroachment into nature’s last wild places continues, the everyday struggles for lions increase. While some game parks in Africa appear to have thriving lion populations, spotting a lion in Africa outside one of these areas is increasingly rare. Without extensive human management of lion populations, these iconic cats will disappear.

Uganda Carnivore Program, located in Queen Elizabeth National Park, is one organization that is fighting to preserve African lions. Dr. Ludwig Siefert and his research assistant James use radiotracking collars to keep tabs on the small population of lions remaining in the in park. They also work with local villages to mitigate the human-lion conflicts that arise from cohabitation of lions, humans, and the cattle they both use as food.


world lion day2


Here in California, “America’s lion,” the mountain lion, continues to be a misunderstood and feared predator. However, recent legislation is beginning to positively affect mountain lions. Now, with the help of Oakland Zoo, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife may be able to relocate some mountain lions from urban areas to remote wilderness locations. Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital is approved as a temporary housing location for such mountain lions, and the veterinary staff works closely with officers when “nuisance” mountain lions are spotted.


world lion day4


On Saturday August 22, Oakland Zoo will celebrate World Lion Day with our own special Lion Appreciation Day. From lion keeper talks to lion paw prints, there will be a myriad of activities to help you appreciate and learn more about all lions! For a preview of World Lion Day, visit






Changing of the Guard: Welcoming Our New ZooCamp Director

by | February 23rd, 2015
Liz Low (aka Firefox)

Liz Low (aka Firefox)

Howdy Pard’ners! There’s a new camp sheriff in town. Yep, for the first time in eight years, Oakland Zoo has a new ZooCamp Director, Ms. Liz Low (aka Firefox.) The former director recently moved on to other responsibilities at the Zoo, leaving the door open for Assistant Director Liz to move on in. Originally from San Jose and coming from a background in Animal Science at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Liz joined Oakland Zoo in 2010. Starting out as a ZooCamp counselor, where she worked directly with the kids, she eventually became the camp clerk until being promoted to Assistant Director in 2014. So as you can see, she’s worked her way right up that ZooCamp ladder, making her the perfect candidate for the job.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with Liz and find out how she’s been settling into her new position. It’s a big responsibility: juggling a dozen counselors and hundreds of kids while interacting with parents and dealing with curriculum, activities, and the occasional bee sting or skinned knee. Liz said it took a

Liz joining the festivities onstage

Liz joining the festivities onstage

little time for her to put all the pieces together, but she reports that all is running smoothly now. It was a big help that the staff was very supportive and made her feel welcome right from the beginning. The biggest challenge, she says, is remembering all the little things that need to be done. (She did admit that on occasion, she’s made a call or two to her predecessor, Sarcosuchus, to get a question answered.) Liz says she plans to keep things the same as they were for the time being, but hopes to eventually make a few changes to reflect her own personal style.
One of the things she’ll be continuing is the Conservation Partner program, whereby one dollar from each summer ZooCamp registrant goes directly to a conservation organization. For this year’s recipient, Liz chose Northern California based PAWS (the Performing Animal Welfare Society) that advocates for performing animals and provides sanctuary for abused, abandoned or retired captive wildlife.
Liz was happy to announce something new for ZooCamp this year: the “Conservation Crew,” a middle school curriculum based on Oakland Zoo’s commitment to conservation. For campers entering grades 6,7 or 8, Conservation Crew is a great opportunity to learn what projects the Zoo administers, which organizations the Zoo supports, and equally important, what kids can do locally to foster conservation “in their own backyards.”
Now that Oakland Zoo offers ZooCamp several times throughout the year, you never have long to wait

ZooCamp Smiles

ZooCamp Smiles

until the next session begins. In fact, the next camp will be offered during Spring Break. Registration opened on February 17 and camp runs from March 30 through April 3, and again from April 6 through 10. And it won’t be long until Summer ZooCamp rolls around. Members’ registration for summer opens March 9, with non-members registering starting March 16.
And with Liz moving up, she left a vacancy herself. Her successor as Assistant Director is Kayla Morisoli (aka Hawk) who started last year as one of the camp counselors. If your kids will be attending ZooCamp this year, they’re sure to meet both Firefox and Hawk here at Oakland Zoo. So don’t forget those registration dates. We’ll see you at camp!

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!

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.


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,,, 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.