Posts Tagged ‘Education Programs’

A Visit to the Doctor: Touring Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital

by | October 30th, 2015
Oakland Zoo's Veterinary Hospital

Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital

Wouldn’t it be nice if all the animals  at Oakland Zoo could take care of themselves, leading perfectly healthy lives on their own? Of course it would.  But the reality is that zoo animals, just like us humans, need occasional help to stay healthy.  That’s where the OZVH comes in. The newly built $10 million Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital provides comprehensive diagnostic care and treatment for creatures both great and small. Radiology, lab work, surgery, treatment, and recovery—all phases of veterinary care can be handled within this 17,000 square foot Gold LEED certified facility. This hospital has been a dream for Zoo President,  Dr. Joel Parrott, who has been working hard to make it a reality ever since he began working at Oakland Zoo. Visiting veterinarians at other AZA institutions to learn what works and what doesn’t, he and the architectural team were able to come up with a design that incorporated the latest technologies and procedures in the most efficient manner.

Generally, our hospital is not open to the public, so the majority of zoo visitors probably don’t even know of its existence. But thanks to the Zoo’s Education Department, it’s now possible for a limited number of guests

X-Ray Facilities

X-Ray Facilities

to visit this wonderful new facility. For the past two years Chantal Burnett, our Assistant Program Director of Volunteer Services, has been leading walking tours of the hospital. In that time, these hour-long tours have become so popular that she’s had to train a team of six docents to handle the demand. I recently had the opportunity to tag along on one of these tours. Although I’ve worked at the Zoo for many years and have been there many times, I was able to learn some new things about the facility that’s been touted as one of the finest veterinary hospitals in Northern California.

On this particular tour I was in the company of some women from the Taiwan tourist industry as well as some members of the Zoo’s Marketing department. Predictably, we began our tour at the

Large Animal Treatment Area

Large Animal Treatment Area

front door. But then Chantal led us through the facility via the same route that an ailing zoo animal would follow, providing us with a unique perspective.

Our first stop was Radiology, where animals are bought in for x-rays. Housed within lead-shielded walls, separate equipment for taking vertical as well as horizontal x-rays accommodate a variety of diagnostic situations.  Of all our animal residents, only elephants and giraffes are too large to be treated here at the hospital. In those cases, the vet staff has the ability to bring whatever equipment they need to the animals’ exhibits, for a “house call.”

Then it was on to Treatment, where multiple procedures can take place simultaneously, in the two adjacent rooms. Included in this area is equipment for anesthesia, oxygen, ultrasound and animal dentistry. Skylights augment the electrical lighting; stainless steel surfaces are easily cleaned.  The large folding padded equine table can safely accommodate hoofstock of any size.  Nearby is the scrub area, where the vet staff cleans up in preparation for their work. Also located nearby are the exam kits—plastic tote boxes containing the equipment needed for work in the field.

The Hoofstock Recovery Area provides a quiet environment (straw-covered floor, subdued lighting) for recently treated

Vet Tech Reviewing Information

Vet Tech Reviewing Information

animals to recuperate until they’re ready to return to their exhibits. Down the hall, the Quarantine area allows for the isolation of animals to prevent disease transmission. As a matter of protocol, all animals coming to the Zoo from other institutions are required to be quarantined for thirty days, so this facility is often used for this precautionary purpose as well.  The heated floor and hydraulic doors make this area safe and comfortable for these animals whose stay is generally longer than those being treated for specific health issues.

Various other dedicated areas are conveniently located nearby: a diet prep kitchen to prepare all the meals for the animal guests, a pharmacy, two separate laboratories for testing and research, as well as several rooms to meet the needs of the staff: laundry room, conference room, a kitchen

Visiting Veterinary Eye Specialist

Visiting Veterinary Eye Specialist

and several private and group offices. There’s even a cozy studio apartment that allows a staff member to stay overnight to keep an eye on animals that need frequent observation or care. Everything from the solar paneled roof to the heated floors of this facility helps provide for the needs of our more than 650 animal residents.

If you’re interested in booking a tour to see this wonderful new hospital for yourself, please contact Chantal Burnett at 510-632-9525 ext 209 (Tues- Sat) or email her at Reservations are required. The hour-long tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 10 am and 12 noon. Tour fees are $20 for members /$25 for non-members. Pre-vet student groups and high school student groups are $200 per 20 students. Maximum number of guests per tour is 20. Hope to see you there!


Fragile Felines!

by | July 9th, 2015

world lion day3


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

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


world lion day2


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


world lion day4


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






Oakland Zoo Welcomes New Educator

by | August 14th, 2014
Katie with Spike, the Indigo Snake

Katie with Spike, the Indigo Snake

Recently, Oakland Zoo welcomed a new member to its Education Staff. Katie Desmond is the new Creek and Garden Programs Manager. Raised in Sebastopol (Sonoma County) Katie earned her BS in Biology and Animal Physiology at Sonoma State University. Later she worked at nature preserves where she led workshops for kids. In 2010 she arrived here at Oakland Zoo, where she worked as an intern, helping with the Western Pond Turtle Project. Following a three-year stint at Safari West near Santa Rosa, Katie returned to the Zoo as a full time employee in the Education Department.
As part of her new position here, Katie oversees the restoration and upkeep of the Zoo’s Arroyo Viejo Creek which runs through Knowland Park on its way from the Oakland hills to the bay. She will also be helping to establish a series of themed gardens in the Education Center courtyard. Seven in all, these will include a native California wild edibles garden; a waterscape with marshy habitat for aquatic plants; a xeriscaped drought-resistant sun garden; and several others with different types of soil, utilizing urban composting. The Zoo’s horticultural staff will help with the big job of designing and planting. Katie will eventually be developing a curriculum to go with each of these gardens, so they can serve as “living laboratories.” At a later time when the gardens are established, school kids will become involved, learning about the different types of plant communities when they visit the Zoo.
As the coordinator of the creek program, Katie will also be facilitating the intrepid Creek Crew, an ever-changing group of various outside volunteers that meet here every 3rd Saturday of the month. She’ll be helping them with their ongoing goal to restore the creek to its former natural, healthy state.
In her spare time, Katie enjoys reading, gardening, hiking and snowboarding. Asked why she’s here at Oakland Zoo, Katie says she wants to help educate people about the environment we live in. So let’s all welcome Katie to her new position here, and we look forward to her enthusiastic involvement with Arroyo Viejo Creek!


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.

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 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:








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,