Posts Tagged ‘Education Programs’

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.


The Launch of a Zoo Evolution: Quarters for Conservation!

by | August 18th, 2011

Visiting the Oakland Zoo may bring you a number of positive feelings. The feeling of connection when you spend time with family and friends, the feeling of awe when you learn about animals and their amazing adaptations, or the feeling of wonder when you gaze at a gorgeous elephant or tiger, but starting on August 19th, a new feeling should come over all our visitors: pride.

That is because of our new initiative, Quarters for Conservation. Each time a guest now visits the zoo, a twenty five cent conservation donation will be contributed in support of several Oakland Zoo conservation projects. With thousands of visitors each year, these quarters add up to a significant increase in the zoos capacity to support animals and habitats in the wild. Our slogan, “Saving Wildlife with Each Visit” about sums it up.

Guests will even determine where the funding goes. When you enter the zoo, you will be given a token. This token can be taken to the conservation voting station in Flamingo Plaza and used to “vote for” a conservation project that inspires you. Quarters are also accepted.

This year, you can vote to:

Help protect chimpanzees in Uganda through the Budongo Snare Removal Project. This project provides a solution to poaching by sponsoring forest guards, snare removers and educators, and by offering nanny goats to ex- poachers as an alternative source of food and income.

Help conserve African elephants in Kenya, through the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. This renowned program is aimed at increasing our knowledge of African elephants and ensuring their long-term conservation. Through their efforts, every elephant in Amboseli National Park has been identified, named, and studied.

Help keep the California condor alive and in the wild through the Ventana Wildlife Society Condor Project. This innovative project collects thin-shelled eggs laid by ill condors, and replaces them with viable captive-bred eggs, treats lead-poisoned birds, and monitors the safety and health of each condor through radio telemetry.

These projects will be featured until summer 2012, when three new projects will be chosen

As a community, we have a great power to not only enjoy the zoo and learn from the animals, but to genuinely help their plight in the wild. Quarters for Conservation represents a true shift in the ways zoos see themselves, and the way the public is beginning to view zoos; as true institutions for conservation action. Engaging you, the zoo visitor, in this evolution is very exciting.

Ready to change the world?

ZooKids On The Block

by | March 24th, 2011

Fun With Costumes

Now serving 4 and 5 year olds! After a two-year hiatus, the Oakland Zoo’s popular ZooKids program is back in action. If you’re looking for a fun activity for your four or five year old child, why not bring them to the Oakland Zoo for a Saturday morning they’re sure to enjoy. Twice a month from September through May, the Zoo offers these three-hour programs that combine fun and learning with animal themed activities led by our enthusiastic docent staff and education specialists.

Learning About Reptiles

Whether indoors or out, the program always involves a topic of the day, such as Harvesters and Hibernators or Tongues and Tails. This theme is echoed throughout the morning in a variety of activities such as a fun craft, game, or musical activity.

Hearing A Story

The program might begin with exploration time in the Education Department, where your child will find books and puzzles, animal costumes, and a variety of “biofacts” to learn about. On other occasions, class might begin in the great outdoors with a mini hike in the Zoo.

Creative Playtime

A small snack is provided before resuming the fun which includes story time and an “animal close-up,” where your child gets to meet and touch one of our Education Department’s animals such as a hedgehog, parrot, snake or a millipede.

So, if your 4 or 5 year old has an interest in learning about animals in an entertaining environment, check out the ZooKids program now happening two Saturday mornings a month at the Oakland Zoo. To learn more about ZooKids events, visit the Calendar section of the Oakland Zoo website, under “News”.   See you there!

Flight of the Phoenix

by | January 10th, 2011

You might not know it yet, but last year, a pilot program was introduced here at the Oakland Zoo that promises to “usher the Zoo into the 21st Century.” In a three-year sponsored partnership in collaboration with University of Phoenix, the Oakland Zoo recently announced the launch of the ZooSchool Explorer’s Club, an educational experience that combines the virtual world of the internet with the real world of the Zoo. As part of the new Life Science and Conservation Initiative, this program marks the first time that the prestigious University of Phoenix has sought to serve students in the elementary grade levels.

University of Phoenix isn’t your average institution of higher learning. Created in 1976 by Cambridge-educated

Donor Reception w UOP Display

UOP Display at Zoo Donor Reception

economist and professor, Dr. John Sperling, the University aspired to a novel goal: to cater specifically to working students by offering a variety of services largely unavailable at the time. These included such student-friendly conveniences as evening classes, flexible scheduling, continuous enrollment, a digital library and, most notably, online classes. Today, with 20 years of experience in online education, University of Phoenix has risen from modest beginnings to become the largest private university in North America, with 200 campuses nationwide, as well as online services in most countries of the world.

Now, as it partners with the Oakland Zoo, University of Phoenix enters into a new era with the Explorer’s Club, educating and inspiring school students from grades one through five.

The Explorer's Club Passport

The Explorer’s Club was created to improve the experience of school visitors, to address the needs of the Zoo in terms of animal treatment, and to foster conservation, community service and activism. The program is structured around a trio of elements:  the Oakland Zoo’s CA Science Standards-based ZooSchool curriculum, a fun and informative Passport pamphlet for Zoo visitors to use on self-guided tours, and an exciting interactive website with supporting activities correlated to the in-class curriculum. By facilitating curriculum online, the program can promote science literacy for those who can’t come to the Zoo in person.

The Explorer’s Club was designed, ultimately, to serve an extensive and diverse audience of teachers and students. Toward this goal, the Oakland Zoo’s Zoo-To-Community scholarship program benefits from University of Phoenix support with bus transportation,  Zoo admission, and educational programs for Oakland Unified School District and West Contra Costa Unified School District Title One  schools.

The Explorer’s Club website is now up and running. Simplified reservation procedures, descriptive programming, along with supplemental activities, serve as the foundation for an outstanding experience. At this time, grades one, three, and five offer fun interactive learning opportunities with an emphasis on conservation. A kindergarten module is in development, as that grade has been re-implemented after a yearlong hiatus. The Passport is also ready to go, having been put together by the Oakland Zoo’s Marketing Department. Designed with the same dimensions of a real passport, it contains several fun activities that inspire investigative learning and drawing, as well as guidelines for your Zoo safari and a complete map of the Oakland Zoo.

Passport Games and Map

The Explorer’s Club launched officially on November 15. You can find it on the Oakland Zoo website at by clicking on “Education” and then “Featured Programs.”  So don’t miss out on the fun and learning. Bring your class to the Oakland Zoo and experience your own self-guided safari with the new Explorers’ Club!

Happy Red Panda Day

by | November 19th, 2010

The holidays are likely on your mind right now, but did you know that a major holiday was just celebrated this past weekend? Just after Halloween and before Thanksgiving falls International Red Panda Day, which the Oakland Zoo celebrated in style with the help of our good friends from the Red Panda Network.

What’s a red panda, you ask? These small, raccoon-like mammals live in the forests surrounding the Himalayas, in China, India and Nepal, and are also known as the “firefox”. They subsist almost entirely on bamboo, eating up to 200,000 bamboo leaves in one day! Besides being charismatic and biologically unique, the red panda can also lay claim to being the original panda. The word “panda” is derived from the Nepalese word “poonya”, which means “eater of bamboo” and refers to the red panda. When scientists discovered the larger, black and white, bamboo-eating animal in the mountains of China, they assumed the two animals to be related, and dubbed the now more famous one the Giant Panda. Now, however, we know that red pandas and giant pandas aren’t closely related at all. In fact, though red pandas share similarities with raccoons, weasels and bears, they have been classified in their own family, Ailuridae, biologically distinct and unique from other species.

TWG Hannah Horowitz shows her red panda spirit!

The actual number of red pandas in the wild is unknown. Like many animals, they face threats from habitat loss and climate change which damages the fragile Himalayan ecosystem. Though their range is geographically large, in practice the pandas are restricted to small patches of forests which support the bamboo plants they so rely on. And yet, while their larger namesake has become a symbol for conservation worldwide, few people have even heard of a red panda, let alone know about the challenges they face. The Red Panda Network, which is dedicated to preserving the species through education, research and conservation in Nepal, decided to raise awareness by holding the 1st annual International Red Panda Day on November 13, with the help of zoos, schools and clubs across the country. When they asked if we’d be willing to join in to teach people about this amazing animal, we readily agreed!

And so, this past Saturday, November 13, we celebrated this special species. The Teen Wild Guides operated tables with red panda facts and activities. Visitors spent the day coloring red panda masks, making red panda origami, and having their faces painted. All activities were free, with donations accepted. When all was said and done, we raised $215 to be donated to the Red Panda Network, which they’ll use to further their excellent conservation work with local people in Nepal.

A young visitor shows off his red panda mask.

An event like Red Panda Day is a great chance to reflect on the little things we can all do to benefit conservation. Here at the zoo, our conservation programs run the gamut from fundraising to composting, but nothing is more important than education. Just by learning about a new animal or habitat, we have taken the first step to making a difference for them. As the great Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum said; “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.” And so, to everyone who came out to the zoo on Red Panda day, colored a mask, and maybe dropped a dollar or two in our donation box, our sincere thanks for doing your part, and for helping us support a hardworking organization. Now we all know which panda truly reigns supreme!

Calling All Ambassadors!

by | August 5th, 2010

What is it that walks upright on two legs, possesses a profound understanding of other species, and loves to vocalize? I’ll give you another clue. It rhymes with SPAM. Give up? It’s a ZAM, or Zoo Ambassador– the Oakland Zoo’s latest secret weapon in its quest to educate the public about its furry and feathered residents. A popular new trend at zoos nationwide, the ZAM program provides a “fast-track” option for becoming a docent, allowing them to be trained and get out in the field much sooner than ever before.

Docents, as you probably know, are the volunteer “teachers” that interface with the public at museums, zoos and aquariums, libraries, and other institutions. They provide assistance and additional information, helping to make the visitors’ experience more rewarding. If you ever have a question or need to know more about an exhibit than the signage provides, docents are a great resource.


In the past, the training program for Oakland Zoo docents involved a 15-week time commitment. And it was offered only once a year. But in an effort to streamline the process and adapt to people’s busy schedules, we decided to divide the training into three 5-week modules. These modules cover the three major areas of the Zoo: the African Savanna, the Rain Forest and the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo. Prospective ZAMs need only to complete one module to be ready for the field. After they become a ZAM, they can go on to complete the other modules (in whichever order they choose) thus qualifying them to work in any part of the Zoo. In fact, most ZAMs do exactly that, going on to complete all three modules to become full-fledged docents. As a result of its success, the ZAM program has replaced the traditional docent training altogether.

But we did more than just slice up the pie. The ZAM program, which began at the Oakland Zoo four years ago, puts more emphasis on customer service than the prior training did. It’s become increasingly evident that there’s more to zoo education than simply talking about the animals. Since these volunteers are the “Face of the Zoo,” and very often the public’s only contact with Zoo staff, it’s vital that ZAMs be well trained in dealing with a variety of situations with the public. During their training, prospective ZAMs gain further insight by learning directly from veteran docents. After graduation, they are each assigned an official docent mentor, who continues to work closely with them, helping them transition from the training mode to actual service.


So what’s it like to be a ZAM? To satisfy the 5 hour per month time commitment, ZAMs can opt to do “stations” (utilizing a push-cart full of animal artifacts at the elephant exhibit, for example) or they can roam throughout their assigned area of the Zoo, talking to people at a variety of different exhibits. To lead tours or handle animals however, ZAMs need to wait until they’ve achieved full docent status. Yet, that still leaves plenty of opportunity to educate and inspire zoo visitors. And, every day is different here at the Oakland Zoo; there’s always something engaging going on.


Where do most ZAMs and docents come from? They don’t just fall out of the sky. According to Volunteer Programs Manager Lisa O’Dwyer, the Oakland Zoo’s website is instrumental in attracting prospective volunteers. By clicking on “Support the Zoo” and then “Volunteer Opportunities” on the home page, you’ll find the ZAM and Docent webpage to help get you get started. So if you’ve got a passion for animals and love interacting with the public, consider joining the Oakland Zoo team by becoming a Zoo Ambassador this year!