Posts Tagged ‘docents’

Zoo Docents: Developing the next generation of inspiration

by | October 11th, 2013
Docent with Animal Skull

Docent with Animal Skull

These days, forty years is a long time for something to last—unless it’s made out of cast iron or granite. But that’s almost how long we’ve had our docent program here at Oakland Zoo. I was still in high school back in 1974 when the first docents headed out into the Zoo, ready to greet the public. Since then, the Zoo has grown tremendously and we’ve seen more than 400 enthusiastic men and women join our team of volunteer educators over the years. Right now, we’ve got almost 90 on board. And I can’t imagine this place running without them.

Inspiring a Young Zoo Visitor

Inspiring a Young Zoo Visitor

But what exactly does a docent do, you might ask. Docents, in the same way that ambassadors represent foreign nations, are the vital link between the public and various educational and scientific institutions. Often operating with limited funding, many of these organizations couldn’t function properly without a team of these volunteers. You see them at museums, science centers, historical sites and, of course, zoos. They handle a variety of tasks, including leading tours, answering questions, and assisting people in need of help. But some of their contributions are a bit more ethereal. They inspire. They enlighten. They connect people with things they may not have been exposed to before. You might say docents help create the next generation of supporters and in some cases, future employees.

So what does it take to be a part of such a team? How do you become a docent here at Oakland Zoo? If you’re outgoing, enjoy working with the public and have a love of animals, you might be just what Oakland Zoo is looking for. But like anything else worth doing, it takes commitment and a bit of work.

Docent Training Class

Docent Training Class

It all starts with the application process, which can be initiated through Oakland Zoo’s website. Once your application has been accepted and a background check is complete, you attend an orientation before you begin the training. Our comprehensive 15-week docent training class provides prospective docents with a solid background that includes an overview of the Zoo’s animal collection, conservation efforts, zoology and taxonomy, customer service and interpretive training. The training is a collaborative effort between education department staff, zookeepers and veteran docents. In those 15 weeks, you’ll get classroom instruction, special lectures, as well as homework assignments, quizzes, and presentations. There’s even a mentoring program to provide one-on-one assistance.

 

Once you’ve passed the final exam and graduated, you’ll officially be an Oakland Zoo docent. After that, you need to fulfill a minimum requirement of 70 public hours of service per year as well as earning 4 credits of continuing education by attending lectures, classes, etc. But since our docents find the work so rewarding, most of them enjoy contributing even more time to the Zoo.

Stepping Through ZAM: Days 10-12, Children’s Zoo Module

by | January 23rd, 2012

This is Franette Armstrong's last post of her Zoo Ambassador Training to become a docent in the Children's Zoo.

 

 

Day Ten found twenty-some very nervous ZAMs in search of an exit…because today is Presentation Day and none of us wants to go first.

But it wasn’t so bad. We each gave our 3-minute presentation of an assigned animal, then a class member was chosen to offer some comments, followed by constructive suggestions from Sarah Cramer, our teacher, or by an experienced docent. We all escaped with egos intact.

Sarah Cramer, ZAM Trainer extraordinaire.

To celebrate, we had a wonderful potluck lunch where visible relief was as plentiful as the food. Many of the keepers and docents came to take part in this festive occasion: We are getting to know one another and becoming part of the “Zoo family.”

Unfortunately, we were also given our final exams to take home and answer using our notes and printed handouts (but no phone calls to each other). We have until next Friday morning to go to a website and post our answers on line before Sarah gets to work that day. Snooze, you lose.

 

Day Eleven: Stay Home and Work on Our Exams

I can’t share the test with you because Sarah might stop speaking to me, but it was only 3-4 pages of multiple-choice questions. Not too hard and actually kind of fun because it’s forcing me to re-read my notes and all the “Blue Sheets.” It’s a great chance to reacquaint myself with the many animals we have studied in the past five weeks and I needed this brush-up.

If you’d like to see some of the Blue Sheets, which provide comprehensive information written by our Zookeepers about the animals in the Zoo, go to Oaklandzoo.org and click on the tab that says “Animals.” They are there by taxonomic groups: Mammals, Reptiles, etc.

 

Day Twelve: Zoo Trivia and Graduation

Part of of our final exam was to study all the information about the Zoo itself so we can answer any question a visitor might ask. Where are restrooms? The strollers? When are the otters fed? Where can I get a band-aid? Where’s my child????

We formed small groups and competed against each other for Trivia points with Sarah awarding bonus points as the mood struck her and competition becoming more intense and more hilarious as the morning went on.

A group shows its stuff in ZAM Trivia.

 

When Good Visitors Act Badly

The next activity: role playing what to do (and not do) if a visitor ever misbehaves, not that any ever will :-)

The docents and Sarah got together and performed skits of potential situations we might encounter and our groups had to show different ways we would get the situation under control. We were falling down laughing at how good the docents were at deflecting everything we did so they could continue acting out. I certainly hope I never encounter visitors like them!

The whole point was to review all the ancillary aspects of being a docent: radio operation, lost-child procedures, controlling visitor behavior that’s unsafe or upsets the animals, plus Zoo rules and how to enforce them.

 

Graduation Isn’t the End

Finally, it was graduation time. We got our certificates and were each assigned a docent mentor to meet with several times over the next few weeks so we can prove we are ready to be turned loose in the Children’s Zoo. They will help us with behind-the-scenes mechanics, such as where to find the biofacts and puppets, and how to do a radio check, and they have a long list they have to go through to make sure every base is covered.

These are a few items on the checklist we have to pass:

~Demonstrate a working knowledge of animal facts for the majority animals in the Children’s Zoo.

~Provide appropriate answers to sensitive or difficult questions.

~Present information that is educational, entertaining, comprehensible and age-appropriate.

~Demonstrate working knowledge of radio protocols (such as lost child and emergency procedures).

And 16 more!

When they sign us off, we get our t-shirts and name badges and are free to move about the Children’s Zoo. Whew.

 

Will we be Docents after all this?

Not quite! Once we have graduated from all three modules and passed the Docent mentoring in each part of the Zoo, we then can take a test on all of it and if we pass, we enter the elite corps called Docent Council—currently 77 members strong. What does this get us? Well, the chance to do even more for the Zoo such as learn to drive the electric carts and do cart tours, perform in the Wildlife Theater, take positions on the Docent Board, and go on all kinds of interesting field trips to animal research projects in the Bay Area.

Becoming a Docent is a Very Big Deal. This one module required 39 hours of classroom and in-zoo instruction plus homework, plus docent mentoring. Some of our Docents have been with the Zoo over 20 years and volunteer their expertise several days a week—not to mention all that they do to help train us ZAMs. When you see a Docent or ZAM walking around the Zoo, tip your hat and realize that they are highly trained by the best, and highly committed to helping you appreciate everything our Zoo has to offer.

Do our animals deserve anything less?

 

More ZAM Training Coming Up

In January the Savannah Module will begin and I am already signed up. Stay tuned as we learn about zebra and elk, giraffes and lions…all the charismatic animals of the African plains. Can’t wait!

Until then, hope to see you in the Children’s Zoo.

 

 

 

Read about previous ZAM Training here: www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/category/volunteering/

 

 

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.

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.

 

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

by | October 26th, 2011

Franette Armstrong is journaling her trip through Zoo Ambassador Training.

 

It’s 8:30am Saturday morning. I’m a half-hour early and sitting here on a bench taking in the incredible quiet of our Oakland Zoo on this beautiful morning. There’s a “don’t bother me I’m eating” feeling in the air—a sense of animal energy—but all I hear are birds chirping. Zookeepers and volunteers are no-doubt busy behind the scenes, but I can’t see them, either.

Suddenly I realize that as a volunteer I’ll have many chances to feel this uniquely companionable quiet. Breathing space.

Today we are going to be divided into groups to tour the zoo all morning so I’ll get back to you after we do that.

Later…

How not to get lost in the Zoo

Our instructor, Sarah Cramer, started us with a “Wayfinding in the Zoo” chalk talk that began to made sense of what has seemed a maze to me on prior visits.

The Zoo is a circle: walk up and you find the elephants, walk down and you get to the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo and Education Center. There’s a central cross-path and the same rules apply. The Children’s Zoo is in its own circle. Sounds easy enough.

As docents we’ll be expected to give directions from anywhere to anywhere: to all the restrooms and amenities, strollers and entries, rides and parking lots, so it’ll be map-study time for me.

Where else can you hear directions like ‘go up past the gibbons and hang a right at the macaws’?

Appreciating how far we’ve come…

After nearly three hours of touring the exhibits we returned to the Education Center for our bag lunches and an Oakland Zoo history slideshow.

Did you know that every single exhibit and enclosure has been renovated or rebuilt since 1985, when Dr. Joel Parrott became executive director here? Dr. Parrott had been the Zoo’s vet with a unique understanding of what animals need to thrive and a vision for what the Zoo could become.

Now, all the animals live in size-appropriate areas that give them vertical as well as horizontal mobility on all the surfaces they love. Elephants get to swim, gibbons get to zoom through tree tops, meerkats live in a rock village while reptiles bake in sunny terrariums. Except for those in controlled environments, our animals get to move between indoor and outdoor quarters—so they can decide when they need a little privacy or extra warmth.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a wonderful BBC video of an elephant and her calf swimming in the wild.

Another big change has been away from “free contact” to “protected contact” in our management of large or potentially aggressive animals. Our zookeepers now always keep a wall or fence between themselves and animals like the lions and chimps—for their own safety as well as the animals’. With this method no animal will ever have to be punished for harmful behavior.

And speaking of zookeepers, unlike the old days when some zoos promoted janitors into zookeeping roles, our Zoo today hires only the best and brightest of the highly-trained animal management experts out there. There are very few spots open nationally each year and only the most qualified get hired.

Zookeepers must have a 4-year degree in a related field and hands on experience. Our Zoo actually teaches intern and apprentice programs for would-be zookeepers.

An exciting future we’ll be part of
In addition to adding new animals and enclosures, the Zoo is working on plans for a 20-acre California Trails Exhibit to feature animals that have been extirpated from our state through habitat destruction and hunting. Visitors will step back to a time when wolves, grizzlies, elk and others roamed the East Bay hills. This exhibit will be reached by gondolas large enough to hold families and strollers.

The new Veterinary Medical Hospital, slated to open in 2012  will have an immediate impact on animal health. We’ll have a quarantine area big enough even for bison, something we lack right now. With new state-of-the-art equipment right here, we won’t have to transport animals out of the zoo for diagnosis anymore, saving time and reducing stress on a sick or injured animal.

Volunteers and Docents make a difference
Docents contribute well over 5500 hours per year interacting with zoo visitors and many more hours behind the scenes, we learned from Loretta McRae who’s president of the board of the 78-member Docent Council.

The 50,000 hours a year volunteers contribute to all aspects of the Zoo equates to over $600,000 annually in salaries that would have to be paid without their help.

In getting to know some of my fellow ZAMs today, I learned that we have among us a champion bread baker, two actors, a nurse, a biology teacher…our backgrounds are as different as our reasons for being in the class.

No homework tonight. Next stop, reptiles and amphibians.