Posts Tagged ‘Conservation’

PBI Leadership Camp — Blog 4

by | October 10th, 2011

Touching the Taiga – Making Connections that Matter

Victor Alm – Oakland Zoo, Zoological Manager

Today we went out on the Tundra Buggy and took a drive to the transitional forest (Taiga); it borders the tundra where we have so far spent most of our time during leadership camp.  On our way there, we were lucky enough to see a gray wolf along with an adult male caribou.

Timber Wolf from Afar

We were also allowed briefly off the buggy, as there were no polar bears in the area, and walked around to experience the landscape. It was incredible as the ground was very spongy and full of the most beautiful mosses, lichens, and cracks in the ground called frost heaves.

The Terrain of the Taiga

However, we are not just here to sight see but to experience the landscape that is used by the female polar bear, for creating maternal dens.  The females do this by digging into low banks and ridges made of peat that supports small trees.   The trees and their roots give stability to the den on the top as well as the hard layer of permafrost (ground that is continuously frozen) on the bottom. With warming temperatures in the arctic, there has been alteration of weather patterns creating a warmer drier environment that is more susceptible to fire and the melting of permafrost. Both of these changes effect the den of the polar bear, making them less stable and prone to collapse.  This can kill bears or cause them to abandon their dens. This has the potential to cause even greater stress on the polar bear population near Churchill, which is already loosing numbers due to loss of their productive sea ice.  On top of this, it has been shown that the melting of permafrost can release another type of trapped gas called methane, which can amplify the warming effects in the atmosphere already seen from increased carbon emissions.

Polar Bear Migrating from the Coast

However, there is still hope and simple things we can do to help such as taking public transportation or carpooling to work. By doing this, you can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases, such as carbon, that are going into the atmosphere.   When small actions are taken collectively, they can be very effective. But, if you want to cause a more lasting and meaningful change in the long-term, you should ask for higher fuel efficiency standards for our vehicles.     This is just one way we can have meaningful impacts towards stabilizing the tundra and taiga ecosystems, polar bear populations, as well as the numerous other ecosystems and animals that face habitat alteration due to a warming climate.

Other examples have been seen with numerous local AAZK (American Association of Zoo Keepers) chapters:  group tree planting or incentives for using home energy efficiency kits.  Check out my next post coming soon which talks about our final day in leadership camp.  Also, continue to follow our group blog from leadership camp

http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/programs/pbi-leadership-camps/groups/keeper-leadership-camp-1

 

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 3

by | October 5th, 2011

Climate Change:  The Extreme Example of Human Wildlife Conflict

Victor Alm – Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

On several occasions at Climate Change Leadership camp we have discussed the human wildlife conflict in regards to polar bears.  The first time was in the town of Churchill, Manitoba with Natural Resource officer Bob Windser who works for Manitoba Conservation.

Bob Windser talking about human wildlife conflict

Bob is in charge of the Bear Alert Program in and around Churchill where they deal with the potential interactions between the residents and the migrating polar bears.  The main reasons for interaction are because polar bears are passing by on their migration north to meet the sea ice (which they depend on for their main food source of seals) and hunger (if they are in poor physical condition).  The response to polar bears can take many forms from deterrence to dispatch.  Deterrence is the preferred method and takes several non-lethal forms.  The first and preferred methods are used to drive bears from out and around town using noise emitting firearms called screamers, bangers, and crackers.  The second is to use paintball guns and white paint on those that are not fazed by noise.  The third is to chemically immobilize bears or trap bears and bring them to a specially designed polar bear holding facility where they can spend several days to a month, depending on the circumstances of capture.  For example, a sow with cubs would only spend a few days.  The polar bears are relocated thirty to forty miles outside of town and if possible back onto the sea ice.  The other Non-preferred method is to put the bears down. It is reserved for situations where the safety of the residents, tourists, or officers is at risk.

Bear Alert Holding Building

Over the last few years, officials have seen an increase in the number of polar bears that have gone  through their program.  More bears are also migrating through  and around town, approximately one month earlier than in years past.  This is unusual because once polar bears leave the sea ice in late spring/early summer, they tend to fast for several months and wait for the return of the sea ice, generally not interested in eating/hunting unless they come across something opportunistically. For a normal, happy, and healthy bear, fasting is not a problem.  But Natural Resource Officers are not always seeing healthy bears; instead, they are seeing them in declining condition.  Due to the increasing sea ice loss  from overall rising global temperature (caused by accumulations of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) bears are having to spend more time on land fasting and less time on the ice fattening up on seals.

Some say our changing climate could be seen as the ultimate trigger for a human and wildlife conflict; not only with polar bears, but potentially with numerous other species that will be trying to adapt and move as their habitats and natural behavior is altered.

Polar Bear waiting for the sea ice to return

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 2

by | October 5th, 2011

Absolute Necessity — A Group Blog

Victor Alm — Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

Patty Young -Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Philip Fensterer — Oregon Zoo

Jennifer Funk — Pittsburgh Zoo

We had an opportunity to Skype with  Dr. Stephen Amstrup, senior scientist for Polar Bears International, this morning.   WOW!!! What a personable, professional, and knowledgeable man.   Thank you again Dr. Amstrup for your time today and thank you for reminding us how important the ice is to the polar bear.

Polar Bear off the Ice

Opening a discussion about climate change with the fact that sea ice is an absolute necessity to polar bears is a great tool.   The wild polar bear must eat seals and the seal cannot be caught except by ambush from an ice platform.   Despite the evidence that sea ice is disappearing for the polar bear the argument of  uncertainty versus reliability continues to be a hot data topic in the climate change debate.  Although our climate clearly has been warming, we are still seeing natural variation in our weather causing times of both warm and cold weather patterns.   This unfortunately has instilled a certain amount of doubt  about the reality of climate change.  However,  the laws of physics require that as the amounts of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere rise, heat trapping gas will cause the earth to warm.  Without the mitigation of greenhouse gases polar bears will be part of our history and not our future.   Alternatively, by reducing  greenhouse gases we can make a difference with the sea ice levels needed for polar bears as well as make a difference to the many other species tied to climate change.

Arctic Fox -- One of many that could be affected by Climate Change

This is a powerful message that needs a powerful and effective approach when being delivered.   One method we discussed today was using personal connection to our own lives and with those whom we speak with to convey the importance of this message.  We experienced this method first hand today when we had a no cameras allowed polar bear moment.  After seeing the bear on the tundra outside of the buggy, we were asked to safely stick our heads out the windows, close our eyes, feel the wind on our face, smell the air, and know that this is what the bear is also experiencing.  Then, we were asked to think about that bear being gone forever, not just this bear today but all polar bears forever.   This was a very moving and emotional for all of us.  As leaders, it is an absolute necessity for us to leave this camp and take steps to create change in our communities

Stay tuned for more Blogs from Climate Change Leadership Camp.

 

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 1

by | October 4th, 2011

What’s It Means To Be a Leader

Victor Alm – Zoological Manager

PBI campers by the Hudson Bay

After the flight from the Bay Area to Winnipeg, I finally got a chance to sit down and meet my sixteen fellow campers/ambassadors along with the facilitators of the zookeeper climate change leadership camp hosted by Polar Bears International.  After a short while, I came to realize that the folks at PBI want nothing less than for us to change the world, change the way we live our lives, all to help make a difference in the fight to mitigate climate change and save the planet and biodiversity that we love.

Inspired artic ambassabdor Victor Alm

The camp itself is in investment in us to do this and they want to support us along with the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) to come up with and institute action plans in our communities to do just that.   These statements were very overwhelming and spawned a discussion on what it means to be a leader.   One statement on what a leader could look like resonated with me:  A leader is not always the person who is sitting in the front of the room or the loudest voice, but can just be someone who is willing to take the initiative and make those first steps no matter how loud their voice is.  I spent a lot of time that evening tossing and turning thinking about those words and connecting it to two other messages about leadership that the Oakland Zoo has invested  in me over the years and how they can work synonymously with the statement above.  These statements are to lead by example and to focus on the issue or behavior at hand, not the personality or attitude.   When combined they create a trio of principles that may not be the specific pathway a leader must walk, but can aid in finding those first steps down the pathway towards making a difference, towards changing who we are,  and how we can start change through our leadership in our communities.  Having leadership that can facilitate and push change is needed by PBI, by AAZK, by the polar bears, by flamingos, and by all those in the natural world who can potentially be affected by climate change during their daily lives.   When you look at it like that, why not expect yourself to change the world, and why not be enthusiastic doing it?

Polar Bear from Afar

Please check out our PBI camp blog at

http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/programs/pbi-leadership-camps/groups/keeper-leadership-camp-1

Coming soon: A post about my trip to the Churchill Polar Bear Alert Program.

Fueling the Future

by | September 16th, 2011

What do trees and chimps have in common? Well, not very much. One is a plant, the other is an animal, and they don’t look very much alike. But, trees and chimps truly rely on each other- a symbiotic relationship that makes one dependent on the other. Chimps need trees for food and shelter, and in turn, the chimps eat fruit from the trees and pollinate the seeds throughout the rest of the forest.

People and chimps have at least one thing in common- they both need to eat! In the Kibale Forest region of Uganda, where both chimps and people live, this can cause big problems. While the chimps can dine on leaves and fruit in the raw, people need to cook their food, and their preferred fuel for their fires is wood- wood that comes from trees where the chimps live and eat. More people means more food, which means fewer trees and fewer chimps. In Kibale, some people started asking if this trade-off was really necessary- if we could have food for people and a home for chimps.

The result has been a fabulous program called the Kibale Fuel Wood Project. Supported by the Oakland Zoo since 2006, this innovative program has developed a few strategies for helping people learn about their natural resource while leaving trees behind for the chimps. This has included planting fast growing native trees for firewood use, a community science center where people can visit, and movie nights in local villages. But my favorite program this outfit runs is one of its newest- fuel briquettes made from trash!

On our recent teen trip to Uganda, 16 of our Oakland Zoo teen volunteers got the opportunity to learn first hand how these round little briquettes get made! First, we start with raw materials- organic trash donated by the villagers. This can include peanut shells, newspaper, wood chips and other natural materials. By donating this unneeded trash, the villagers get finished fuel bricks in return- while also getting rid of their waste in a helpful way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, the materials need to be ground up and prepped. This involves grinding it up using a big mortar and pestle like contraption- and let me tell you, it takes some practice!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ground shells and newspaper then get soaked in water and mixed together in a big bowl, making a chunky, soupy mixture. This is then put into the specially made mold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the mix is ready, the water needs to be squeezed out. To do this, you place the mold in a big wooden press. Pushing the handle down puts pressure on the mold, and the excess water quickly runs out the bottom into the bowl below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, all you have to do is pull the mold out and pop out your finished round briquettes! After drying in the sun, canola seeds will be added so that the oils will make the bricks burn hotter, making them more efficient.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best part of the day- when we all got to enjoy a delicious lunch cooked for us over a fire of fuel briquettes! Tasty, delicious…and eco-friendly! Thanks to all at the Kibale Fuel Wood Project, especially project coordinator Margaret Kemigisa. We had a great time!

What Do Beavers and Western Pond Turtles Have in Common?

by | August 23rd, 2011

Keeper Kristin at the Oakland Zoo's Western Pond Turtle Table. Photo credit: Cindy Margulis

Why was the Oakland Zoo at the 4th Annual Beaver Festival in Martinez?  No, the Zoo doesn’t have beavers, but it does have Western Pond Turtles which rely on beaver habitat.  The event was a wonderful opportunity to create awareness about the Zoo’s  Western Pond Turtle Head Start Program and the conservation efforts involved to protect the only aquatic turtle native to California.  The Oakland Zoo along with many other environmental organizations participated in this festival to create awareness about native species in the Bay Area and the fragile ecosystems where the animals live.

In October of 2007 several beavers took up residence in Alhambra Creek, which is in the downtown area of Martinez, and this caused a controversy. Immediately, members of the community felt strongly about keeping the habitat intact and finding a way to co-exist with the beavers.  However, the dam was reported to pose a flooding hazard and the animals were scheduled to be eradicated.  Concerned residents took action and formed a non-profit organization “Worth a dam” to help maintain the population of beavers in Martinez through education and practicing humane environmentalism.  A special flow device was installed in the creek to manage the dam and the outcome was a success!

Dilbert, Oakland Zoo's turtle ambassador. Photo creit: Cindy Margulis

Keeper Kristin shows kids "Dilbert," Oakland Zoo's turtle ambassador. Photo credit: Cindy Margulis

Beavers are a “Keystone species” in North America because they play a critical role in biodiversity and many species rely on beaver ponds for survival.  The Western Pond Turtle will use beaver burrows and lodges to seek refuge, and the ponds provide a rich source of food for turtles, because they attract frogs, fish, and insects.

Oakland Zoo Docent Cindy Margulis and I brought “Dilbert,” the Zoo’s non-releasable turtle ambassador to the festival.  Dilbert was a hit, teaching people about the importance of protecting Western Pond Turtles, which are a ‘species of special concern’ in California.  What made the experience even more memorable for the kids was a “Keystone species” charm bracelet designed specifically for the festival.  We gave each child a turtle charm when they came up to the Zoo’s booth. The children then told us about the relationship between beavers and turtles.

Turtle charm. Photo credit: Kristin Mealiffe

Cindy and I were really inspired to see how a small group of people can make a positive change.  The Zoo’s Western Pond Turtle Head Start Program continues to be a success.  Since 2008, Zoo staff, along with researchers from Sonoma State, have released eighty-one turtles back into the wild.  The program is a joint effort with the San Francisco Zoo and Sonoma State that brings people together to help preserve a species and its habitat, so that future generations of have the opportunity to enjoy this magnificent aquatic turtle.

If you are interested in learning more about the Western Pond Turtle Head Start Program or other conservations projects, please visit our website at www.oaklandzoo.org.