Posts Tagged ‘animals’

Behind-the-Scenes: Animal Commissary

by | May 2nd, 2012

Zoo Ambassador Franette Armstrong is taking us backstage in this new blog series.

 

 

 

 

Iron Chefs step aside…your challenges are nothing compared to the daily mission of feeding over 400 animals of 160 different species two to three meals a day.

And you think combining tripe with chocolate is a problem? Try satisfying omnivores who need a dozen different foods in different amounts plus nutritional supplements and snacks!

Chris Angel, primary commissary keeper, demonstrates the three different ways fish is cut up for different birds who need it to resemble what they’d find in nature.

 

 

That’s Logistics

Chris Angel is one of a team of commissary keepers who are in charge of making all this happen.  The commissary team translates the requirements of the Zookeepers into orders from suppliers and then makes sure every area of the Zoo has exactly what they need when they need it. Oh…and they have a food budget to worry about, just like any of us.

Chris’ background? After college he learned management in a factory and butchering in a meat department and volunteered for us. Then he entered the Zoo’s Internship program and before he knew it…he was on staff.

Career advice: “Degrees are valuable, but so is experience. My advice to anyone wanting a job here is to get involved with volunteering,” he said. “Don’t give up. Just keep on coming.”

 

Two full- and two part-time staff, plus volunteers and interns, work multiple shifts preparing the food every single day of the year. Yes, even Thanksgiving and Christmas

 

AIRline Food

To give you a sense of how complex the diets of our animals are, check out this food prep schematic for our birds:

The colors in the chart represent trays and for each tray there’s a list of ingredients ranging from “Flamingo Fare” or “Pretty Bird” to fresh fruit and cooked vegetables. Some require a little romaine lettuce or meat. What turns Flamingos pink? Beta Carotene from shrimp in their food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Megan Frye, Night Keeper, prepares the trays for birds according to the detailed schematics.

 

 

 

 

 

This is where the bird trays end up...in one of our many aviaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picky Eaters…and Keepers

The Zookeepers help design the animal diets in collaboration with our veterinarians and Animal Care management staff. Once a diet is set, all three have to be involved in any changes to it. When the ingredients are finalized, the Commissary takes over and is responsible for obtaining all the food and nutritional supplements.

“A third of all the animal food is prepared here in the Commissary. The rest is prepared at the animal enclosures from the ingredients we supply,” Chris explained. “The hardest part of our job is not making the food, it’s satisfying the high standards of the animals and their Keepers.”

This is one meal for five Tigers. Animal Management staff and volunteers will divvy it up into individual servings.

 

Take an Elephant’s diet as an example: they mostly get hay and “browse” (leafy branches) but also get four buckets of chopped produce each day. The Keepers spread most of the food around the exhibit to give them the challenge of finding it.

Everything—even lettuce-- has to be cut to a predetermined size so it takes the animals longer to find and eat their food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Constant Supply

The Zoo keeps two weeks worth of essential supplies on hand at all times, just to be sure the animals won’t go hungry in an emergency. Beyond that, just-in-time orders are placed with local feed stores, and produce and veterinary distributors who, in turn, stock a supply of what we are going to need so that they have it when our orders arrive.

 

In the Animal Commissary there is an entire wall of kibble bins plus huge jars and barrels of food like birdseed and popcorn (no butter or salt and used only for snacks).

A big part of our animals’ diet is fresh fruits and vegetables and nothing less than human-grade will do. “If we wouldn’t eat it, they don’t get it,” Chris said.

To help meet the ongoing need for fresh produce we rely heavily on donated food. Grocers like Safeway, US Food Service, and AL Lunardi and Sons contribute hugely along with Niman Ranch and Prather Ranch. In addition,  growers, hunters, fishers and home gardeners donate boxes of meat, bones and fresh fruits and vegetables daily.

Volunteers sort the food and store it in coolers or freezers until its needed. Our Chimps get apples, and oranges plus three other fruits like berries and melon. Elephants get potatoes with their fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

Even California Fish and Game and Caltrans get into the act when they find a newly killed deer or turkey. “As sad as that sounds, animals like our Tigers and Hyenas need a variety of hoofstock and large bones.” At least this valuable food doesn’t go to waste.

We never take predator animals from these sources, however, because they can carry bacteria and viruses our Lions and Tigers are susceptible to and they are more likely to have been poisoned. Safety first.

Our utensil board rivals the famous Julia Child’s, though she probably didn’t have hacksaws on hers.

 

Fun Food

Yes, even Zoo animals appreciate a treat or a snack, and just like kids, they enjoying playing with their food. An important but fun job of the Commissary staff and Zookeepers is coming up with new ways to stimulate the senses and appetites of our animal residents.

“You wouldn’t want to eat the same thing everyday, and neither do our animals,” says Chris.

Popsicles are a huge hit with the apes, lemurs and elephants. Sun bears love to scoop peanut butter out of the bottom of jars with their long tongues, so we volunteers bring our leftovers in for them.

 

Our elephants will spend hours licking a popsicle like this one that’s made of fruit juice and then stuffed with fruits and kale. Once out of its container, the popsicle on its embedded rope will hang from a tree branch.

 

Out in nature food has to discovered or caught, so we try to bring some of that challenge into the animals’ daily lives. Keepers hide snacks or intriguing herbs in cardboard tubes. Interns and volunteers dye berries and grapes different colors and freeze them to spice up dinner trays.

The snack bar section of one of the freezers is home to some strange- looking treats. The ones with the ropes are for animals without hands.

 

 

These carrot popsicles will soon make an Otter or Meerkat a happy camper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specialty Foods

Chris purchases exotic bird kibble, Marmoset Jelly and other prepared foods that are not easily replicated in our kitchen so that every animal’s dietary needs are met. Even ground beef comes from a veterinary food distributor because our tigers and lions not only require the meat, but also parts that  human hamburger doesn’t contain. The whole point is to closely replicate their diet in the wild.

Animals such as our Boas, which in nature consume live prey, are fed frozen mice here because catching food on the move is dangerous to the predator—it fights back—and we don’t want our animals injured. We defrost it for them before serving time—cold-blooded animals want warm food.

Live mealworms, crickets and goldfish are the only exception to the fresh and frozen meat we serve. They provide exercise and stimulation as well as nutrition to our otters, frogs and insects.

 

 

 

But this is not to say that people-food isn’t on the menu. In addition to their fresh food, our animals are given fig newtons (they are great for hiding vitamins and pills), gelatins, baby food, powdered sports drinks, spices and many other packaged foods you would recognize on your own pantry shelves.

Does this look somewhat like your own pantry? These foods are expensive so some of our wonderful volunteers go shopping weekly with their own money just so the animals can have them as treats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Help Feed the Animals?

As you can see, feeding time at the Zoo is a community effort: It requires a huge quantity and variety of ingredients all the time and we rely on donations.

The Commissary will gratefully accept donations that are pesticide free.

If you are a fisher, hunter, or butcher, we may be able to use your  fresh or frozen overstock and raw bones.

If you’re an organic farmer, gardener, arborist or grape grower—or have friends who are—the animals would love your excess vegetables, fruits and nuts. The one thing none of our animals will eat is lemons and limes, which is a shame since so many of us have trees loaded with them.

If you are interested in donating give us a call Chris Angel at 510-632-9525 x 215.

Someone carved and donated a pumpkin “condo” to make our Meerkats’ day.

Flowers in your yard? Pick a bouquet for our animals. Most of our animals  would love your pesticide-free nasturtiums, roses, and dandelions.

Pruning your shrubs? We can take certain types of branches and leaves for our Giraffes, Goats and Zebra. Go to this page or call to find out if yours are edible.

Where to take donations? Small amounts can be dropped at our front gate. Even a few peaches or carrots are appreciated. For larger donations (bin size or more or frozen food), call Chris Angel at 510-632-9525 x 215 to arrange a drop-off.

 

 

We thank Steve Goodall, a local nature photographer,  for volunteering to take, and allow us to use, the photos for this article.

 

Man Your Battle Stations: 20 Years of Conservation ZooMobile

by | January 11th, 2012

Question: What makes the Conservation Zoomobile different from the other wonderful ZooMobile programs offered by the Oakland Zoo? For one thing, it’s a team effort– and a very loyal team at that. For nearly twenty years (since being founded by docent Edna Mack), the CZM has been led exclusively by the same group of four docents! (Only recently did Harry, Roland, Claire and Debbie recruit some new blood.)

Hands-On Learning Fun

Yet, it’s more than team teaching that makes this program unique. Offered only on Wednesdays during the school year, CZM travels to elementary schools throughout the East Bay to teach kids in the 3rd through 5th grades about conservation issues around the world.  Usually set up in a school’s auditorium, it’s structured into several stations that operate simultaneously, sort of like a job fair.

"Garbage" Sorting Exercise

Following a brief introduction, the students are divided into groups and led to one of the four awaiting stations where they spend 15 minutes before rotating to the next one.  At the 4R station, the kids learn about sustainable consumption of the world’s resources, and the cycle of resource use. Also known as Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and Rot, this station teaches kids about purchasing power, donating clothes, and recycling light bulbs. They participate in an exercise where they sort “garbage” into different components, and see a mini composting demonstration. At the Rain Forest station, kids will find a festive cave-like umbrella display that they can actually sit inside. Here, they learn about the incredible living ecosystem of the tropical rain forest and get to see and smell some of the many by-products of the forest that we use in our daily

Exploring The Mini Rain Forest

lives, such as chocolate and spices. They also learn about some products whose extraction is destructive to the forest and how we can minimize that damage. What exactly goes on at the H.I.P.P.O. station? No, they don’t bring out a real live hippopotamus. These letters stand for Habitat, Introduced species, Population, Pollution, and Over-consumption– the five main threats to the earth’s wildlife. The kids see puppets and biofacts (animal artifacts such as skulls, bones, snakeskins, etc.) and learn about the impact of fur coats, as well as which other animal products to avoid. The last station offers what the Zoomobile program is best known for: live animals. Here, the kids get to visit with tortoises, snakes, chinchillas and even cool giant millipedes. They learn the difference between domestic and wild species, as well as which animals make good choices for family pets.

During the wrap-up, the kids are asked for feedback to show what they’ve learned, and what they liked best about the presentation. They then watch a rain forest video and later learn about the different things that they can do in their daily lives to help rain forests around the world.

Meeting A Furry Chinchilla

Longtime Zoo docent Harry Santi has seen a lot since he started with CZM. And, he’s noticed a big change in the depth of animal knowledge that kids possess these days. Sometimes, they know the answers before he’s even had the chance to finish the questions. He’s also seen a crazy thing or two in those twenty years, such as the time he got all the way out to Walnut Creek for the presentation before he realized that he’d forgotten to bring the animals! He had to go all the way back to the Zoo to get them.

So if you’re an elementary school teacher or know someone who is and would like to participate in this special educational experience, give the Oakland Zoo a call and get the Conservation ZooMobile to come to your school this year! You can book a Conservation ZooMobile by calling (510) 632-9525, ext 220.

Stepping Through ZAM: Day 8, Children’s Zoo Module

by | January 5th, 2012

Franette Armstrong is taking us through her Zoo Ambassador Training as she prepares to become a Zoo Docent.

I don’t know about you, but I have never given much thought to animals’ teeth. Turns out you can tell what an animal ate while it was living by looking at its jaw later. Today we studied some “biofacts” (physical specimens) to learn the ins and outs of how animals eat.

Herbivores have lots of molars—back, flat teeth for grinding branches, grasses and seeds.  Since their food doesn’t try to escape, they use their front teeth like pruning sheers to clip leaves and stems.

Herbivores don’t need sharp front teeth to catch prey.

 

 

 

 

Carnivore teeth on the other hand, are sharp and scissor-like. Their front teeth bite and hold on while their long canine teeth tear into prey. Their molars are used for slicing rather than chewing because they mainly swallow their food in whole chunks.

The canines on one of our new Tiger sisters are not what you would want to see on a dark path at night—and she was just playing around. Photo Credit: Steve Goodall

 

Omnivores, such as otters and bears, eat both plants and meat, so not surprisingly, they have a combination of sharp front teeth and grinding molars. Humans are set up with teeth like this, whether we eat meat or not, so look in your own mouth to see an example of omnivore teeth.

Insectivores, such as rodents and some bats, have sharp molars that can tear through the shells of insects.

The jaw of a hedgehog shows the sharp molars and lack of incisors of insectivores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Onto Birds…and Australia

You might wonder why it has taken so long to get to birds when they form such a huge part of our ecosystem. Reason is, we only have one species of bird in the Children’s Zoo: the Emus in our Australia exhibit. Nonetheless, understanding them requires understanding Bird taxonomy.

If you were ever into dinosaurs as a kid, the first fact we learned won’t shock you: Birds are members of the Class Reptilia. Yes, indeed…birds are Reptiles right along with crocodiles, snakes, lizards and something called Tuataras.

Tuataras are the oldest species of reptile living today and are found only in New Zealand.

Birds are defined as an animal with feathers and a beak that lays eggs. Flying is not a requirement, so Emus, Ostriches and Kiwis, who long ago lost their ability to fly, still count as birds. Emus are the second largest birds in the world (Ostriches take first place) and give us a chance to learn about feathers.

We looked at many types of feathers to see what allows birds to fly. One of the reasons Emus can’t, besides the fact that their wings are tiny remnants of what their ancestors had, is that their feathers are soft and downy, each actually two separate feathers connected at the stem. Their main purpose is to give these land-loving birds extra warmth.

Emu feathers are a radical departure from the single-quilled types on flying birds.

 

 

 

Emus are fascinating for another reason: the males take complete responsibility for nest-building, egg-incubating and child-rearing while the liberated lady Emus go off to lay eggs for some other lucky male.

This baby emu is just coming out of his dark-green shell.

The devoted daddy Emus sit on the dark green eggs, which look like large avocados, for about 8 weeks without leaving the nest to eat or drink. They can lose a third of their body weight during this period so they prepare by pigging out for months ahead of time. Once the babies are hatched, Dad shepherds them around until they are old enough to have and care for their own eggs.  He will even take in orphan babies if they are smaller than his own.

 

Marsupial Moms are Busy

Interesting reproductive abilities are a theme today as we moved on to Wallaroos and their baby-having rituals.

Now you already know that Kangaroos, Wallaroos, Wallabies and Opossums all raise their babies in pouches. That’s what Marsupials do. You might not know this, though: A mother Wallaroo can have three babies at once: one in the uterus, one in the pouch, and a Joey “at foot” who can hop in and out of the pouch for a quick milkshake whenever he wants. You can watch a great video of that here.

The Joeys keep this up until they are 14 months old and then go off and start having kids of their own. Here’s a great video about two of our Joeys.

Our baby Joeys move in and out of their mother's pouch whenever they are hungry or scared.

About to Get Buggy

We ended our class today with a brief lecture on Arthropods, which include all the inhabitants of the Bug House: ants, spiders, scorpions, millipedes, beetles and walking sticks. These are the only invertebrates in our Zoo.

As you will remember from Day One, Arthropods don’t have backbones…their skeletons are on the outside of their bodies in the form of shells or scales, and they all have jointed legs, so worms don’t fit into this Class.  Wednesday night we’ll go up close and personal with all of them. Yikes!

Enjoy your weekend,

 

 

To read about previous Zoo Ambassador training classes please visit:

www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/category/volunteering/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping through ZAM: Day 7, Children’s Zoo Module

by | December 23rd, 2011

Franette Armstrong takes us through Zoo Ambassador training with her.

 

Bipolar. That’s how I felt after tonight’s presentation by Amy Gotliffe, our Director of Conservation.

On the one hand, we heard heart-breaking stories of what is happening to animals everywhere.

On the other hand, we heard heartwarming stories about what our Zoo is doing to protect and preserve animals and their habitats.

Amy Gotliffe, Director of Conservation

 

 

Which would you like first? The good news or bad? I’ll give you the bad first so we can end on an upbeat note:

One in five animals is in danger of extinction. That’s 20%, right? We are losing animals faster than their species can evolve to adapt to the changes humans have made to the planet in the last 35 years.

Illegal killing and collection of animals for Asian medicine, bushmeat and the pet trade is a huge cause of animal death and suffering. Sun bears are placed in “crush cages” so their bile can be extracted. Chimps are trapped in snares where their limbs are torn off, and everything from parrots to monkeys to lions are captured to sell to  stores, auctions, and over the internet.

I was shocked to learn that the money made off the black market for pets is second only to the drug trade. In Central America up to 80% of the tropical birds captured and exported die before they reach their destination,  but there’s still enough profit left to make the pet trade a major cause of animal endangerment.

Fashion is another killer of wild animals and a high-profit industry that supplies the endless market for ivory, leather, snakeskin, fur coats and other status symbols.

Amy suggested that we not lecture our friends who have these items, but we shouldn’t compliment them, either. There’s nothing beautiful about killing animals for vanity.

Western appetite for seafood is devastating our oceans.

 

We have to ask ourselves where we Westerners fit into the economics of all this. Amy pointed out that seafood is our version of  bushmeat and we are wiping out entire species of fish like Chilean sea bass and King crab by unsustainable fishing and fish farming.

If we accept as pets animals like Amazon parrots, Gila Monsters, and even ocelots and tigers, which either come directly from the wild or were bred from parents that did, how can we criticize Africans for selling their own wildlife?  Every time a wild animal is bought as a pet, a slot opens up for another one to be captured and killed in transit or sold.
I told you this was depressing.

Habitat loss is another reason species are disappearing daily. Entire forests are being cleared so that we can mine the Coltan mineral used in our cellphones and electronics. As a result, the Mountain Gorilla population in the Congo has gone from 258 five years ago to 130 at last count. This mining is just as bad for people: it has brought slavery and violence to the Congo.

Habitats are being destroyed every day to give us lumber, paper, palm oil, precious metals… things we use without giving it a thought. People need to feed their families, though, so many of our projects abroad are to help locals develop alternatives to killing their wildlife.

Air pollution, water pollution, careless introduction of
nonnative plants and animals, all are taking their toll on
animals as diverse as polar bears and frogs.

Our own wild animals here in the Bay Area—bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions—are losing out like grizzlies, elk, and wolves did a century ago. We want to build on their land,
hike on their hills and then when they are forced to meet us face to face, we want them killed. More often than not, they are killed because of property damage, not because of threats to human safety.  As Amy said, we are hardly role models for the rest of the world when our needs conflict with animals’.

That brings me to the good part

Whew! Thought I’d never get to this but our Oakland Zoo is involved in dozens of projects here and around the world to stop this steady death spiral. I’ll just name a few we learned about tonight:

The Budongo Snare Removal Project is supported solely by the Zoo to help chimps in Uganda who are being swept up accidentally in snares left for animals that are wanted for food. This project has turned former hunters into conservationists and is a model for programs in other countries.

One of many types of snares that are capturing and maiming wild animals.

The Zoo supports with staff and supplies the Kibale Fuel Wood Project to offer residents in Uganda an alternative to clearing their forest for cooking fuel.

In the Bay area our Zoo supports The Bay Area Puma Project to help protect our local wildcats through research and judicious use of dart guns.

California Condors are coming back from near-extinction and our Zoo is building a facility to help treat those that have lead poisoning from the buckshot they pick up in their food.

We already learned about our Head Start program for the Western Pond Turtles (ZAM Day 4) and there are many, many more conservation efforts the Zoo supports through donations, supplies, staff and public education.

Our new “Quarters for Conservation” program is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects Zoo visitors vote for with tokens they receive on admission.

Zoo Visitors have the chance to vote for 4 different conservation projects when they use the tokens they receive with admission.

On top of direct help to animals, the Zoo does its part by recycling, composting and using solar panels and hybrid or electric vehicles.

If you’re like me, you might feel overwhelmed by the size of the need and how urgent it is. I have an ache in my stomach just thinking about it right now. At least as a docent and volunteer I will be able to get directly involved in helping people understand that our choices have consequences.

A few easy things we can do right now

• Don’t flush kitty litter. The bacteria in cat feces isn’t killed by sewer treatment and is sickening the endangered sea otters.

• Don’t buy exotic or wild pets including reptiles and tropical birds. Here’s the  listing of illegal pets in California.

• Recycle your cellphones at the Zoo and demand that electronics companies develop gorilla-friendly technologies.  You’ll get a free train ticket and the phones will go to a group that refurbishes them to reduce the need for more Coltan. Write a letter to your cellphone maker today.

• Eat sustainably harvested fish. To get a list of what to avoid, go to  Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. You can print a pocket guide that makes choosing the right fish easy.

• Buy handmade products from the Zoo’s Conservation section of the gift shop. Sales of jewelry and other items help support people in Africa so they won’t have to kill wild animals to live.

Volunteer to make a difference.

I’m sure Amy’s complete list of things we can do would take a hundred blogs, but we have to start somewhere and I am going to go write Apple this minute about Coltan mining.

Stepping through ZAM: Day 6, Children’s Zoo Module

by | December 8th, 2011

Franette Armstrong diaries her progress through Zoo Ambassador Training.

Today Sarah showed us her true stripes as the Zoo’s Education Specialist: We focused on how children learn and how to interpret the world of animals for them.

The real job of kids is to learn and the way they learn is to play. There are all kinds of types of play, though, and Sarah took us through everything from the solitary play of babies to the sophisticated world of cooperative play among seven year olds.

The real job of docents in the Children’s Zoo is to encourage kids to learn about animals through play. We can do this by helping them to explore with all their senses.

Learning is child's play.

 

Back out to the Zoo

Most of our day was spent in the Zoo learning from the keepers and experienced docents.

First, the goats introduced themselves while Keeper Chelsea introduced us to the contact yard and took us into the kitten room to meet the three fluffballs there.

It’s nice to know that everywhere in the Zoo animals have a chance to take themselves “off exhibit” when they want a break, but it is especially important in the contact yard. This makes them happy campers when they are out among the children and the kids find a lot of joy in their friendliness. I watched one little girl circle the yard while leaning her full weight against a Nubian Goat. The patient goat managed to stand upright and went along cheerfully with this bonding experience.

Chelsea Williams shows ZAMs how contact yards work.

 

 

Next, it was down to the animal commissary where Keeper Zach took us on a tour of  Food Central—the place where everything that is fed to our residents gets brought in, prepared and disseminated to the keepers. We saw an elephant popsicle in the works, volunteers sorting crates of donated fruit so only fresh, ripe peaches will make it into the food bowls, and freezers packed with everything from whole chickens to fig newtons.

Fig newtons make great Trojan Horses, Zach said, for the vitamin pills nearly all our animals would rather not take.

It is amazing how many stores, organizations and farms donate fresh food to our animals daily. On top of that we buy over $100,000 of hay a year plus everything else—cereals, special zoo diets, meat, nuts, yogurt and other treats including insects and live fish. Every species has its own special diet and there are pages of recipes our commissary staff prepares daily.

Only people-grade food is good enough for our animals.

Role Modeling Interpretation

When we got back to the classroom we were going to learn about the art and science of interpreting exhibits to children and adults, so as a warm-up we were divided into groups so experienced docents could model how they would engage kids with various animals in the Zoo. There are four parts to the formula and, depending the age of the child, sometimes the parent is the audience as much as the kids.

The first docent in my group was Carol Kerbel at the River Otter exhibit. She used a puppet to engage a little girl with her dad and show us the four steps we will learn to cover for every animal.

Step One: Tell an interesting fact about the animal. “Hi, I’m a River Otter,” she said while making the otter puppet talk. “I live on the land and under the water. My special paws help me swim. Can you hold your hand like this? That’s right. That’s how you swim under water. And I have whiskers so I can feel my food when I’m down there.” She let the little girl pet the puppet’s whiskers.

Step Two: Tell what threatens their survival. This girl was very young so Carol said, “The water is my home so I need it to be very clean so I can live in it.” Looking at the dad, she continued. “My cousins, the sea otters are having lots trouble because their home is the ocean and it is getting dirty.”

Docent Carol Kerbel uses a puppet to get her points across.

Step Three: Tell what we can do to help. “You can help me by keeping our rivers and streams clean.” Clearly, this was a message to the dad. “Wash your car in a car wash and don’t use chemicals in your yard because all the soapy water and pesticides go into the rivers and ocean and make my house dirty.”

Step Four: Tell what the Zoo is doing to help. “We pick up our trash because everything on the ground can blow into our creek and go out to the ocean.” The little girl was entranced and asked to hug the otter puppet.

We saw versions of this four-part message at every station. A young man was taught about the size of our bats (the docent used a rope to demonstrate wingspan). We learned more about our pigs, and ended up enjoying the antics of the lemurs, who were being fed.

Interpretation is an Art

Sarah is credentialed by the National Association for Interpretation as a guide and as a trainer of other guides. She had put together a concise summary of an amazing amount of information about interpretation for the last half-hour of class.

It all boils down to making information relevant to any particular audience. That is the best way to help them learn about and remember what they’ve seen. Here’s a sample of a message that might help adults appreciate bats:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homework

Oh no. We knew this was coming, but I didn’t expect it so soon. In addition to the normal homework that will send us into all the Zoo’s websites to gather conservation messages, we have to write the outline of our final presentations.

Each of us is assigned an animal in the Children’s Zoo to discuss for 2-3 minutes. Mine is the Black Tree Monitor which I now will have to pay a visit. I can’t say that I am really excited about this particular animal (why-oh-why couldn’t I have a mammal?) but maybe after I do my research and spend time with it, I will be. Maybe.

Have a great weekend,

Zoo Docents on a Conservation Mission

by | November 29th, 2011

Talking Tiger

Sometime around September of 2010, the docents at the Oakland Zoo began to work on an idea they’d had for quite a while. They were looking for an organized, yet simple way to speak about the subject of conservation. They wanted to have at their disposal short messages about individual species that they could share with the public when they were out in the Zoo. The Volunteer Programs Manager, Lisa O’Dwyer, suggested they form a group to get the job done. So, they created the Docent Conservation Committee.

Using the IUCN and the Oakland Zoo website as primary sources for information, they began to investigate the various issues that affect the species that are represented here at the Zoo. Some of these issues were obvious and easy to understand, such as how deforestation from slash and burn agriculture in the rain forest reduces the amount of space available for wildlife. Other issues were more obscure. For instance, not many people knew that recycling your old cell phones can help wild chimp and gorilla populations. (The mineral coltan, which is found in tropical soils, is one of the raw materials for the electrical components of cell phones; the less of this material to be mined, the less these habitats are disturbed.)

Young Chimpanzee

So with all the necessary information at hand, several of the docents sat down and began working on the conservation messages, eventually creating the first group of thirty, which the Zoo docents have already begun to use. In each case, the idea was to bring to the public’s attention the issues most affecting the species’ survival, many of whom are facing threats from human encroachment. Some of the messages speak of animal welfare: non-animal circus patronage, alternative medicine, and the exotic pet trade. Others deal with species that aren’t endangered themselves, but are closely related to those that are. For example, talking about the habitat needs of African lions helps the public understand the issues that face local predators such as pumas. In the same way, discussing the conservation issues that are faced by vultures throughout the world help people understand the plight of the highly endangered California condor.

Endangered Sun Bear

But how do you get past the talking phase? How do you get the public to act? Scientists and activist organizations have been talking about conservation for so long: Save the Whales, Save the Redwoods, Save the Baby Seals. The calls for help seem to come from every quarter; it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even apathetic. People often think, “What can I possibly do? What difference can one person make?” But as history has shown, sometimes the biggest changes have started in the smallest ways. Docents, as grassroots ambassadors for the Zoo, are particularly well-suited for this type of campaign. For example, by suggesting to Zoo visitors that purchasing a handcrafted gift in the Zoo gift shop can help support indigenous people from the rain forest who might otherwise turn to poaching to feed their families, docents are able to help people take those important first steps. In doing so, visitors can leave the Zoo feeling that they’re doing something to help, even in a small way.

Making a Connection

The Docent Conservation Committee is still in its infancy; there’s plenty of room to grow and evolve. But so far, it’s been able to make progress in the field of wildlife conservation right here at the Oakland Zoo. So the next time you visit the Zoo, take a moment to speak to the docents. They’d love to chat with you, and you may find that it’s easier to start saving the world than you thought!

To learn more about conservation efforts you can help, Click Here.