Posts Tagged ‘Conservation’

Scouting Around for Some Adventure?

by | September 18th, 2015

There’s something new happening with Oakland Zoo’s scouting programs. We’ve completely revamped our workshop structure and content to reflect the recent changes in the Cub Scout organization. The four ranks (Tiger, boy in dirtWolf, Bear and Webelos) are still the same, but the requirements for earning them are more straightforward and action-based. The awards themselves are also different. The Scouts earn each of these ranks by completing a series of seven adventures, or achievements. One of the ways a scout can complete these adventures is by attending one of Oakland Zoo’s scout programs. These weekend workshops are offered in both half-day (2 ½ hour) and overnight sessions. For convenience, the half day programs are offered both in the morning and afternoon. These adventures include such activities as scavenger hunts, taking nature hikes to identify plant and animal species, building overnight shelters, using map and compass (even making your own simple compass,) as well as learning about composting, endangered species and how trees fit into our complex ecosystem.
The zoo workshops are structured specifically for one adventure within each of the different levels or ranks: Tigers in the Wild (Tiger); Paws on the Path (Wolf); Fur, Feathers and Ferns (Bear); and Into the Woods (Webelos.) Each of crouching boythe workshops also includes an “Animal Close-up” and a guided tour of the Zoo. Some of the classes visit Arroyo Viejo Creek and others enjoy a hike through various parts of Knowland Park.
These workshops generally cater to scouts within the same den, so all the kids will already know everyone else in the group. Each scout is also working toward the same goal, which fosters more team spirit. Since the workshops can accommodate a maximum of thirty individuals, some of them occasionally include multiple dens. Each scout receives a patch for his participation in the Zoo workshops, and then can later obtain his official new belt loop insignia from the Cub Scouts.
Oakland Zoo also offers a workshop specifically designed for the scouts’ NOVA Award, an extra-curricular award boy in bushesdealing with science, technology, engineering and mathematics that can be earned by scouts of various levels. Here at the Zoo, scouts working toward the NOVA award get the opportunity to study the local ecosystems of the Bay Area– learning about food chains, biodiversity, and predator/prey relationships.
All of our workshops require advance registration but there’s usually plenty of room for everyone. Den leaders who are interested in enrolling their Cub Scouts in any of Oakland Zoo’s scout workshops can visit the Zoo’s website at If you have any further questions you can call our reservation receptionist at 510-632-9525 x 220. So get your Cub Scout ready for some adventure. We’ll see him at Oakland Zoo!

Making it Green: Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs

by | July 17th, 2015

You might not know this but Oakland Zoo deals with a lot more than just animals. Surrounding the Zoo, like a giant green oasis, lies the expansive Knowland Park. And running through the park you’ll find crew with bagsthe meandering Arroyo Viejo Creek, making its way from the East Bay hills to San Leandro Bay. But this creek isn’t some man-made exhibit with fake foliage. It’s a naturally occurring bio zone, complete with its own plant life, animal life and geological features. In other words, it’s home to a lot of living things. And like far too many natural ecosystems, Arroyo Viejo Creek faces ongoing threats from the human world. So it needs a little help. That’s where Oakland Zoo comes in.

For several years now the Zoo has facilitated restoration work on the creek in an effort to return it to its natural, healthy state. This work involves cleaning up accumulated trash, removing invasive plants (such as French Broom, thistle, poison hemlock and English ivy) and planting weed pullersnative species, such as coastal live oak. Most of this work is done by a group known as the Creek Crew, a team of up to fifty zoo-led volunteers that get together one Saturday each month. Armed with shovels, rakes and work gloves, the Creek Crew involves people of all ages, from kids to seniors. And they have a great time too. Overseeing these efforts is Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs Manager, Olivia Lott.

A recent arrival at the Zoo, Olivia is also organizing an ambitious plan to create a series of themed demonstration gardens to use in our Education Creek and Garden programs. These gardens will illustrate a variety of biomes and will be used to educate the public about the role of various plant species. Utilizing our existing planter space in the Education Center courtyard, Olivia hopes to create eight different plots, including an edible garden, a medicinal garden, a xeriscaped garden for sun loving plants, a habitat and shelter garden to attract local wildlife, one for shade plants (filled with ferns native to our northern California woodlands) and other gardens for aquatic plants, carnivorous plants and for attracting butterflies and other pollinators. There’s even a group on grassgarden consisting of plants that grow without the need for soil that will be grown vertically along one wall of our Education facility!

Olivia plans to involve the public in creating the space for these gardens. Projects like building planter boxes, vertical garden frames and small fences, plus soil preparation and even some planting can all be fun educational projects for the dedicated groups and individuals who volunteer their time here at the Zoo each month. Education Department staff will maintain the gardens once they are established.

Another conservation project Olivia is helping to launch involves sharing a bit of beautiful Knowland Park with the rest of the East Bay. Starting this September, several groups including Creek and Garden classes, Creek Crew volunteers and Zoo staff will begin collecting acorns that have fallen from the Coast purple and chipsLive Oak trees living in the upper park. The acorns will be brought down to the Education Center to be prepped and planted in containers where they will grow for the next 24 months or so. Once the acorns have become small oak saplings, they will be given to East Bay residents who are interested in helping to re-populate their neighborhoods and yards with these magnificent native trees that once gave Oakland its name. Instructions for caring for the saplings as well as small markers that tell about the trees and where they came from will be provided with each tree. This project grew out of the Zoo’s desire to not only replace the few oak trees that will be removed during CA Trail construction, but to also “spread some of the wealth” of Knowland Park throughout East Bay neighborhoods.


If you’re interested in joining the Creek Crew or know someone who is, contact Oakland Zoo at or 510-632-9525 x 233 and get involved with the next work day at Arroyo Viejo Creek. If you’re interested in helping with the gardens, contact Chantal at Either way, you’ll have a great time working with nature and meeting new friends. And it’s a good feeling knowing that you too can make a difference!


Big Love for Elephants with Big Life!

by | April 24th, 2015

It started with a book:  1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I was planning a trip to Kenya — my last one had been 25 years earlier — and read this:

“An Unspoiled Corner of Kenya:  Ol Donyo Wuas, Chyulu Hills. The owner and occasional resident personality, Richard Bonham chose the site for its view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  Bonham himself occasionally pops up…”

Big Life, one of our Quarters for Conservation partners for 2014-15, is headquartered in the Chyulu Hills at Ol Donyo; Richard Bonham is one of the co-founders, along with photographer Nick Brandt.  Big Life protects 2 million acres of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of East Africa, encompassing portions of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Amboseli Tsavo ecosystem map
They implement the philosophy I heard about when I got there:  Wildlife Helping People.  Big Life is the largest employer of community members (predominantly Maasai) in the region, and the organization ensures that tourist revenue derived from wildlife in the ecosystem benefits the locals.

Richard Bonham grew up in Kenya, the son of a Kenya Wildlife Services ranger.  He recently received the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, and he thoroughly understands and appreciates Maasai economics and culture.


big life awardFor the Maasai, cattle are their wealth.  They live on semi-arid land that their cattle share with savannah grazers and browsers — elephants, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, antelopes, zebras — along with predators — lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas.  Young boys grow up herding and protecting cattle among all the resident wildlife, and they have a deep knowledge and appreciation of nature, with one exception:  lions are a traditional enemy, and when a lion kills a Maasai cow, teenage warriors retaliate — and prove their manhood — by killing a lion.

Over the last 25 years, Maasai elders — who serve as mentors for adolescents — have realized that their lion-killing tradition can’t continue.  Lions are among the iconic tourist draws, and if every Maasai warrior proved his manhood by killing a lion, tourist revenue would die with the lions.  In 2008, the elders asked Richard Bonham to brainstorm a solution with them, and together they came up with two schemes:  a predator compensation fund, from which the community partially compensates a family that loses cattle in spite of their best efforts to protect them; and the Maasai Olympics, where young men compete in traditional Maasai skills for prizes, displacing the need to kill a lion as a rite of passage.  The elders spent six months on education about the importance of the young generation in implementing a cultural change that would preserve the best of their traditions — but update their values to the realities of the 21st century.

Big Life and their partners have organized Maasai Olympics competitions in 2012 and 2014.  David Rudisha, the Maasai gold medalist in the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics, is a fervent supporter, and guest of honor.
During the last quarter of 2014, not one elephant, among the 2,000 that pass through, was poached in Big Life’s area of operation.  Most of the danger for elephants now lies in conflict with farmers:  elephants raid crops, or drain the water supply, potentially destroying a year’s livelihood.  Farmers retaliate by spearing the elephants.

And Big Life comes to the rescue:  a Kenya Wildlife Service vet flies to Ol Donyo when the staff spot a wounded elephant, treats the wound and sends the elephant back to the wild, hopefully wiser about where and what he chooses to eat and drink.


elephant down
The community around Ol Donyo now Gets It about conservation.  Big Life’s latest story:

They arrived with a just cause, eight construction workers to build a classroom. They must have wondered at all the animals, living in peace and not terrified of humans. Clearly they didn’t take the time to find out why.

And this led to a very bad decision. If no one else was eating all these animals, well then they would. They chased down a lesser kudu, an uncommon and shy antelope, and snuck the carcass into the school through a hole in a fence.

But they misjudged the people around them. The message went from a set of community eyes, via the Big Life control room, and straight to the rangers. The cooking fire wasn’t even warm by the time the ranger team arrived, and the men found themselves on their way to the police station. A bad end to their day.

Despite the on-going conflicts with elephants and predators, this is a community that has decided to conserve wildlife, and the sooner visitors get the message, the better for them.

Note: Big Life will be presenting at our annual Celebrating Elephants event on May 16th. Join us!

Oakland Zoo ZooKeepers to Madagascar!

by | February 18th, 2015



When you see that word, what do you think? I will guess most of you will say “that DreamWorks cartoon!” King Julian!” or “I like to move it, move it!”

As a keeper at Oakland Zoo, I care for two species of lemur; Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) and Sclater’s lemurs (Eulemur flavifrons) and I think of the word “Madagascar” a little different than most. I immediately think of lemurs as well as orchids, chameleons, rainforests, fossa and many, many other unique and endangered species.1

There’s no place in the world like Madagascar. Formed over 88 million years ago, it is the world’s 4th largest island and 90% of its animals are found nowhere else on the planet! Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be able to visit such an amazing destination, but, indeed I did!

In November of 2014 my supervisor Margaret Rousser and I were invited by the director and founder of Centre ValBio, Dr. Patricia Wright, to visit her research center in Ranomafana National Park and assist in the capture and data collection of the park’s Milne-Edward sifaka’s (Propithecus edwardsi).

After a 27 hour flight from San Francisco and a 10 hour drive from Antananarivo, the country’s capitol, we finally reached the rainforest and Centre ValBio. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Mysterious. Downright awesome. These are the words that went through my mind as we arrived.

After resting up overnight after our long flight and equally exhaustive drive we were ready to see the park.

Elizabeth holding a recovering adult

Elizabeth holding a recovering adult

Along the length of the eastern Madagascan coast runs a narrow and steep escarpment containing much of the island’s remaining tropical lowland forest. Ranomafana National Park is located on this escarpment. The terrain is extremely hilly and trekking through the forest is challenging as the majority of the time you are ascending or descending these hills. My favorite areas were the ridge trails. Once you reach the ridges, you get a break from the extreme climbing and get to enjoy the views on either side of the hills.

On our first visit into Ranomafana Park with Dr. Wright, Margaret and I were able to see 5 different species of lemurs! To say we were lucky is not enough. Dr. Wright has been studying lemurs in this location for 30 years and was pleased and surprised at seeing so many lemur species on a single visit. We capped our perfect lemur day with an interesting evening, observing students collect data on the world’s smallest primate, a mouse lemur.3

After a few days waiting for the government to finally approve the permits required to capture the Milne-Edwards sifaka’s, we were on our way back into the forest! After a grueling 5 hour hike to one of the park’s most remote sites we arrived to find the lemurs, ready for their exams and new collars. The trackers, who spend much of their time in the forest observing the whereabouts of the different lemur groups and know the individuals intimately, had anesthetized a group of three adults, one male, two females and two infants!

Putting on new ID collar (Photo Joan de la Malla)

Putting on new ID collar (Photo Joan de la Malla)

Margaret and I jumped into our roles immediately! Margaret led a group of graduate students, instructing them on obtaining body measurements along with hair, ectoparasite and fecal collection. I helped the vet with physical exams, blood collection and removal and replacement of new ID collars. This was a most amazing experience. The adult lemurs are given anesthesia to avoid undo stress as they are wild animals unused to being handled by humans. This ensures their safety as well as the humans’ handling them. The infant lemurs are not anesthetized and stay on their moms until the physical exam is performed. The babies are then held by a human until their mother is done with her exam and they are quickly returned to her. It may seem this is too stressful for the animal but the babies seem to feel secure as long as they have an adult primate to cling too. They contentedly sat in our arms, looking at all the things happening around them with no struggling our stressful vocalizations.

We stayed that night camping in the rainforest, which was an adventure in itself, with the lovely pit toilet and cute little leeches!  The next morning we awoke to the sounds of black and white ruffed lemur groups vocalizing around us. The Milne-Edwards sifakas were checked by the vet to ensure they all had recovered fully from the previous day and then the trackers returned them to the same location they had been captured so the lemurs could resume their normal daily life.

The rest of us returned to Centre ValBio’s laboratory where we began processing samples taken from the animals.

The second group we helped with a few days later was just as exciting but luckily only a 30 minute hike to the site instead of 5 hours! We had one adult male, two adult females and one infant. Again, all went well, and once recovered, the animals were returned to their original location.

Once done with our Ranomafana animal captures Margaret and I had a few days to see a little more of Madagascar when we traveled 4 hours by car to visit a village which ran their own lemur sanctuary. This was very exciting for us because at this location they only had one species- ring tailed lemurs!

Anja Community Reserve covers about 75 acres and nearly 300 RT lemurs call it home. It is completely operated by the villagers, who protect the forest, serve as guides and perform administrative tasks.

Mama and baby ring tailed lemur at Anja Community Reserve

Mama and baby ring tailed lemur at Anja Community Reserve

We arrived at dusk and could hear the lemurs calling to each other in the forest below our hotel, I got goose bumps as I immediately recognized the calls as they are the same vocalization I hear from my lemurs at Oakland Zoo! Early the next morning Margaret and I along with a guide and a tracker, headed into the reserve. I was soon choked up with joy as we encountered our first wild lemur group! These lemurs have all been desensitized to the proximity of humans and Margaret and I were able to get quite close. It was amazing to sit in the forest as 100s of lemurs meandered, scampered, jumped, vocalized and foraged all around us. Our guides had a vast knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna as this was their own backyard. They could spot a tiny chameleon who looked like a little twig to me, or another one that was the same green as the leaf he was sitting on!

November was the perfect time to visit Madagascar as there were many babies to be seen. So many cute little guys were riding their moms, daring to be brave and jumping to the ground only to be surprised by a blowing leaf and running back to the safety of momma’s back! It was interesting to see the large troupes of lemurs of all different ages combing the forest together. The older animals were much more interested in foraging for tasty fruit while the youngsters played tag through the trees!

Margaret and Elizabeth with Veterinarian Hajanirina Rakotondrainibe at Centre ValBio

Margaret and Elizabeth with Veterinarian Hajanirina Rakotondrainibe at Centre ValBio

Overall, the trip to Madagascar was an unforgettable journey. Seeing the country, its animals and people was a life changing event. I can’t wait to return to the beautiful Island and continue to see more of the amazing and unique things it has to offer!

Western Pond Turtle

by | December 2nd, 2014


What happens to conservation when the water runs dry???

Thoughts by Ashley Terry

western pound turtle

Western Pound Turtle

The Western Pond turtle (or WPT as we refer to them around the zoo) is the only freshwater aquatic turtle native to California. Traditional habitats range from Baja California to British Columbia, but in recent years that habitat has begun to shrink due to habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native species into their environment. They are now extinct in British Columbia, critically endangered in Washington and endangered in Oregon. Here in California, they are considered a species of special concern.



The larger of the two turtles was head started, the smaller not. Both are the same age.

Each nesting season, Oakland Zoo and Sonoma State students and biologist spend a month tracking, marking and monitoring gravid female WPT’s and viable nests at our field site in Lake County. This is the sixth consecutive year that zookeepers have spent in Lake County, and to date, we have successfully Each nesting season, Oakland Zoo and Sonoma State students and biologist spend a month tracking, marking and monitoring gravid female WPT’s and viable nests at our field site in Lake County. This is the sixth consecutive year that zookeepers have spent in Lake County, and to date, we have successfullyraised and released close to 450 turtles- each season yielding around 45 hatchlings or more – through our head start program. Check out this cool video of the WPT at the Zoo. The goal of the Head Start program is to raise the hatchlings for the first year under optimal conditions. By creating the best possible environment for the turtles, they grow 3-4 times faster than they would in the wild.  At the end of the first year, the juvenile turtles are then released back into Lake County, having grown too large to be eaten by common predators like big mouth bass and eastern bull frogs.


Lake County Field Site

Lake County field site

WPT’s live in typically riparian habitats where they can most often be found in sloughs, streams, and large rivers, although some may inhabit bodies of water such as irrigation ditches and other artificial lakes and ponds, too. Turtles are generally active from late May to October. WPT’s overwinter, or hibernate, in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Terrestrial overwintering habitats consist of burrows in leaf litter or soil. In more wooded habitats along coastal streams in central California, most pond turtles leave the drying creeks in late summer and return after winter floods.


Drought ridden lake

Drought ridden lake

California has experienced continuous dry conditions since 2012; alternatively known asdrought.  According to the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 99% of California is currently abnormally dry; 67% of California is in extreme drought, and almost 10% is experiencing exceptional drought.  The repercussions of our drought emergency are relatively simple: there is an extreme lack of water.  The absence of water impacts Californians in several different ways, whether it is economically or socially.  But how does it affect the state’s wildlife or our conservation projects here at the zoo?

western pond turtle hatching

Western Pond Turtle hatching

hatching size comparison

Hatchling size comparison

Those involved with our Head Start program have noticed that the last few drought years in the field have been incredibly stressful on the Lake County turtles in several distinctive ways. In some less permanent waters, such as our field site, the fact that the ponds have dried up completely for the first time in many years has certainly affected the behavioral patterns of WPT in some key ways, thus affecting the numbers of gravid turtles and viable nests sights during our field seasons. Since the ponds dried up by July and August of the last 2 years, the turtles were forced to estivate – spending a hot and dry season in an inactive or dormant state – when they would normally have been feeding and stocking up their internal reserves of protein and fat. The extended time they spent in this state of “suspended animation” also leaves them much more vulnerable to any manner of disturbance – especially in the case of predators, temperature extremes, etc. Lastly, and maybe most important for our head start program, the non-permanent lakes & ponds were dry when the turtles should have been feeding and mating. This was reflected in the very low numbers of nesting females last summer, giving us only 4 hatchlings this season.


Although these impacts of drought do indeed bring about urgent circumstances for wildlife, it is important to remember that droughts are, unfortunately, natural phenomena. Climate scientists predict that California will get even hotter and drier. As more of the state’s precipitation falls as rain instead of snow in the mountains, it will run off the land more quickly, ending up in the ocean. Scientists say that with global warming, we’ll see more instability in California’s climate, with more intense storms, longer dry periods, and less snowpack. It will be interesting in the upcoming future to see how long it takes to get back to the normal population numbers at our site, and to track the behavioral changes due to impact of habitat change. In the meantime, we are also looking at other possible locations where population numbers can be monitored. Wildlife and drought have coexisted for generations upon generations. For the most part, wildlife populations are able to bounce back from drought events once typical weather patterns return. For the time being, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a very wet and rainy winter, resulting in turtles returning to our pond.

western pond turtle basking

Western Pond Turtles basking




Visit to find out how you can help save water at home, and to find out more about Oakland Zoos conservation programs.


Oakland Zoo and you taking action for wildlife!

by | October 10th, 2014

Humans long to connect to nature. We are hardwired to be a part of the whole of our habitat, to breathe in fresh air, to sit under the shade of a tree, to awake to birds, to gaze at a sunset, to wonder at stars. In our busy urban lives of cars and offices and computers, we forget this deeply ingrained part of us. When we do get out in nature, we take deep breathes, reboot, relax and reconnect with our simple humanity.

I think we are finally realizing how important this connection is. It is no wonder concepts such Nature Deficit Disorder, Nature Therapy, and Eco-Psychology have emerged. It is no wonder doctors are prescribing time in nature as medicine, those with illnesses are healed with the friendship of therapy horses and dogs, and schools are slowly adopting environmental education into their curriculums. This awakening gives me great hope.

However, modern media brings to us daily sad truths about the condition of our planet. Concepts like the sixth extinction, global warming, habitat fragmentation and fracking have become part of our general knowledge. The ivory crisis, the illegal wildlife trade, the invasive species epidemic and more are making headlines. This bombardment of bad news can give any of us a case of Eco-phobia, or a feeling of helplessness about our future. Some question whether caring or taking action will make a difference.

Yet, it is clear people care. On September 21st when 400,000 people marched through the streets of New York and thousands marched world-wide demanding attention be paid to global warming, it became clear that the citizens of the world care indeed, and that most people who care are ready to transform that feeling into action.


If I may quote Dr. Jane Goodall, “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” We agree.

Oakland Zoo celebrates these notions in us all by launching our new conservation concept, “Action for Wildlife“. Through Action for Wildlife, we have a clear platform to illuminate the incredible species we share our planet with, communicate their conservation challenges and introduce our partner organizations that are conserving them. We also celebrate the zoo’s own accomplishments using our spectrum of resources to fully support these efforts. Most of all, Action for Wildlife acknowledges you, our community. We aim to engage our visitors, members, students and greater family in joining us to take action for wildlife, and we hope to help inspire actions that make a bigger difference than you can imagine. We believe that our family of 750,000 can make a huge difference in the lives of wild animals.

Just by coming to the zoo, you have taken action for wildlife through Quarters for Conservation, where 25 cents of your entrance fee and a dollar of your membership cost goes to wildlife conservation. Our three new projects, Big Life, Centre ValBio and Ventana Wildlife Society are great examples of outstanding action for wildlife, and each of us can truly help. Big Life supports elephants in Kenya. You can take action for elephants by refusing to purchIMG_1841ase ivory, choosing to avoid circuses that use elephants and supporting elephant conservation organizations. You can be inspired the Centre ValBio in Madagascar and conserve lemurs by avoiding the purchase of rosewood. You can help the California condor, like Ventana Wildlife Society, by refraining from hunting with lead bullets and picking up trash.

 So join us, your zoo, as we embark on a journey that will bring us closer to who we are meant to be as humans. Let’s appreciate wildlife, connect to wildlife and take action for wildlife together.

Please join us on Action for Wildlife Day on Saturday, October 18th at Oakland Zoo. There will be fun, learning, interactive stations, face-painting, a selfie station inspiration for ways that YOU can take action for wildlife. In celebration of this day, two rare experiences will be offered: A tour of  our state-of-the-art Veterinary Center and a real Baboon Experience!