Posts Tagged ‘Elephants’

Growing Up Oshy

by | October 31st, 2012

The time we’ve all been anticipating for years has finally arrived; Osh has now experienced his first musth. Bull elephants, both African and Asian, go through a period of heightened sexual and aggressive activity, or musth. Similar to that of a rut in hoofstock species, this is a period when bull elephants more actively compete for, seek out, and guard estrous females. Musth was first described in African Elephants in 1976 by elephant expert Joyce Poole and is characterized physically by stinky temporal

Osh, 18 years old, 10’3″ tall, 11,300 lbs.

drainage and swollen temporal glands, urine dribbling from the sheath, along with several specific distinct displays of behavior as well as heightened aggression toward other bulls. When a young bull goes into his first musth it generally only lasts for a few days or weeks as they come in and out of it. Bulls typically go into their first musth from the years of 18-25. At 18 years, standing at 10 feet 3 inches tall, and weighing in at 11,300 lbs, Osh seems to be experiencing similar patterns to that of the wild. Although catching the eye of the females will be much easier for him, since he won’t have any competition.  Older males with more experience can go into musth for up to several months, with the most successful breeding males in their forties. Females prefer musth males to non-musth males, although those not in musth may also breed successfully. About a week prior to being official we noticed an increased amount of temporal drainage from Osh’s temporal glands. We continued to observe heavy temporal drainage with a specific musky odor, which was followed by a wet sheath and a small amount of urine dribbling. Throughout the next two weeks we continued to observe these physical changes, sometimes the urine dribbling heavier, completely wetting down the insides of Osh’s legs. These are physical changes you can look for if you see him on exhibit. As of yet, we have not noted any dramatic behavioral changes which may change as time goes on. This is a very interesting time for the elephants as well as the keepers as we witness Osh go through a new chapter in his life.

Celebrating Success, Celebrating Elephants 2012

by | August 20th, 2012

Cynthia Moss (center), visits with the Oakland Zoo Elephant Management Team / Photo: Stephen Woo

As you may already know the Oakland Zoo hosts two events to raise money for the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya. Known as Celebrating Elephants, these event fundraisers are key factors in educating our visitors about captive elephant management and updating them on the status of African elephants in the wild (please see my previous blog, “Of Tusks and Terror” for more information on elephant poaching). All of the proceeds are given to the Trust and are used in various ways to fight for the protection of these majestic creatures. We are very proud to report that this year between our Celebrating Elephants Day and our evening lecture we raised over twenty-one thousand dollars, and overall have raised almost three-hundred thousand dollars in the past sixteen years.

Volunteers helping with the evening. From the left, Rachel Piche, Cheryl Matthews (long term volunteer and Celebrating Elephants contributer), and keeper Stacey Smith / Photo: Gina Kinzley

 

This year we had the fortunate privilege to have Cynthia Moss as the keynote

Guests peruse auction items / Photo: Gina Kinzley

speaker at the evening lecture and silent auction. Cynthia, the founder of Amboseli Trust and a world-renowned elephant expert, shared wonderful pictures and stories of the current baby boom that is going on in Amboseli due to a good rainfall season. The camp and elephants have had a well deserved break from the fire and drought that had hit them in the previous few years. Not forgetting all the good news Cynthia reported, unfortunately we cannot ignore the incline in poaching for ivory that is happening all over Africa, Amboseli included. This gives us more reason to raise the funds we do so the park can hire the rangers they need to protect the elephants from illegal poachers.

Keeper Danielle Stith, and sister Stacey. The lovely bakers of our delicious bake sale / Photo: Gina Kinzley

Amongst good company, we had a lovely evening with cocktails, hor d’ourves , and a menagerie of auction items to bid on. A huge thank you to all of our sponsors; this event would not be possible without all of your generous donations. If you did not get a chance to visit with us this year, please join us in 2013. Whether you join us during the day with the kids, or have a date night out and attend the lecture, every contribution counts. A wonderful success for 2012, and a big thanks to everyone that helped!

Internship Week 3: Top Chef – Zoo edition

by | July 28th, 2012

Intern Stephanie Lo

For rabbit enrichment, sometimes I put hay, leafy greens and produce into plastic toy balls.

Much like Top Chef contestants must complete culinary challenges with certain ingredients, both zoo keepers and Oakland Zoo commissary staff must prepare diets for the animals according to specific requirements. Although Top Chef contestants work under the camera spotlight to please the reality show judges, zoo keepers may appear to work more in the background. However, both work under a time constraint.

On Tuesday afternoons, I work in the zoo commissary to assist in the preparation of diets. This week I began by helping a volunteer prepare the birds’ diets and then started cutting up produce into two inch pieces for the “elephant buckets.” These buckets consisted of two buckets of potatoes, one of apples and one of bananas, totaling about 40 pounds. It’s safe to say that I have never sliced so much produce at one time!

Beginning to prepare the lemurs' breakfast. Part of their breakfast is sweet potatoes and canned primate.

 

This week, the commissary received a new shipment of live crickets and mealworms. After helping prepare diets in the early afternoon, I faced the task of opening the shipment of boxes. Being slightly squeamish around bugs, I took a deep breath before taking out a pocketknife to separate the tapped boxes. Even though I’m not extremely grossed out by mealworms, I have never dealt with so many. But then again, I’ve never worked in a zoo commissary before. Each cardboard box housed about 1000 mealworms, which needed to be transferred to the large plastic mealworm tub in the commissary. The crickets proved to be a bit trickier. I had to make sure they did not escape while I relocated them into the two large cricket garbage cans.

Lemur lunch contains a variety of chopped up fruit. This particular day's lunch includes berries, cantaloupe and peaches.

String 7 prepares most of its diets in the Children’s Zoo kitchen, so most days the other intern and I get to chop up and measure produce for the lemurs, pigs and rabbits. Typically, I bring a reusable bag down to the walk-in commissary refrigerator to go “grocery shopping.” A plethora of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens fill the shelves and plastic cartons. The lemurs’ lunch is one of the most enjoyable to prepare because it usually consists of fresh fruits like cantaloupe, bananas, blueberries or peaches. The zoo keepers try to have a lot of variety in their diet, which also depends on the produce donated to the zoo.

I chop and measure out leafy greens and fresh produce for String 7's rabbits.

 

 

While going “grocery shopping” in the commissary, I began to learn the names of leafy greens included in the diets and learn the animals’ preferences. Sure, I was already familiar with Romaine lettuce, spinach and bok choy. But after the first few days, I began to identify the rainbow Swiss chard, collard greens and jicama. Just as not all people are avid vegetable eaters, the lemurs are not as fond of their daily greens. Consequently, we feed them most of their vegetables for dinner so they have more time to eat them before breakfast the next morning.

Quarters For Conservation: More Than a Token Effort

by | May 17th, 2012

 

Flamingo Plaza Voting Station

Kids certainly make things more fun. I had the chance to spend some time at the Quarters for Conservation voting station at the Oakland Zoo the other day. I was sitting with “Jungle Jake” Ledesma, one of the Zoo volunteers, who was staffing the station for a couple hours, along with his plush chimpanzee “companion.” Judging by his endearing jokes and puns, Jake clearly likes engaging the public,

Jungle Jake and his Buddy

making personal connections that the station’s graphics can’t do alone. As a steady stream of visitors stopped by, I soon found myself being drawn in. Yet despite Jake’s simian sidekick, it was the young kids that made the biggest impression. The issues at stake may have been serious, but the kids were definitely having fun participating.

 

In case you haven’t heard, Quarters for Conservation is a wildlife conservation program at the Oakland Zoo whose motto is “Saving Wildlife with Each Visit.” Whenever you come to the Zoo, you receive a token. This token does two things.

Explaining the Issues

First, it symbolizes the twenty-five cent donation that the Zoo earmarks for conservation on behalf of each visitor. Secondly, it serves as a means for selecting which one of three different conservation projects this money will be spent on. At the voting station by Flamingo Plaza, you’ll find three green funnel-shaped coin receptacles under a cute little tin roof. Here you’re able to use that token to vote for which wildlife conservation effort you’d like to support. This year, we’re promoting The Amboseli Trust for Elephants, The Budongo Snare Removal Project (saving chimpanzees) and The Ventana Wildlife Society Condor Project. Whether it’s from habitat loss, poaching, or other issues, these animals face serious threats in the wild right now. Quarters for Conservation allows the public to take part in helping them.

 

As I sat there under the tin roof beside Jake, I was impressed by how aware the kids were about these worldwide issues.

Girls Involved in Conservation Efforts

They were informed, passionate, and articulate.  A nine year old girl came up and immediately started to talk about the Disneynature film “Chimpanzee,” and how it inspired her to help chimps in

 

the wild. She dropped her token in the appropriate receptacle. It spiraled its way down the little green chute and fell to the bottom with a clink. Later, another girl stopped by with her family. She was participating in a walkathon for a chimp orphanage in Uganda (pretty impressive for such a young kid.) She was having fun with another girl as they dropped a steady stream of tokens into the chimp receptacle. The elephants, by the way, got almost as many tokens, but the condors were having a bit of trouble keeping up in the race.

 

Kids Love the Coin Spinner

The coin spinner receptacle is a clever gimmick. One kid had a whole fistful of tokens and had clearly mastered the technique of getting them to spiral gradually down the chute instead of plopping straight to the bottom. Another kid, peering down into the green funnel, was fascinated by the real money that was lying among the pile of shiny tokens.

 

The adults took a more pragmatic approach, simply tossing in their tokens without allowing themselves to enjoy it as

Mastering the Token Technique

Using Props to Explain Conservation

much as the kids were. But it was clear that they were just as interested in the conservation efforts of the Zoo, and were happy to do what they could to help out.  And they’d be equally happy to know that Quarters for Conservation has raised more than $40,000 this year. That’s definitely good news for elephants, chimps and California condors. So visit the Oakland Zoo soon and show your support for wildlife conservation. Jake and his plush pal say “Thank you!”

 

Stepping Through ZAM: Day 8, Savannah Module

by | May 3rd, 2012

Franette Armstrong is sharing her journey through Zoo Ambassador Training in this blog series.

 

 

 

A backstage tour of the Elephant barns is a privilege only a few volunteers ever get and our entire ZAM class got it today. It was a thrill.

I mentioned last time that Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research, was a major force in changing the way Elephants are treated in zoos. That’s because she was the second in the country to begin using a management technique called Protected Contact. We saw this in operation today.

Keeper Jeff Kinzley gives this foot on this Elephant a pedicure every single workday. We have four full-time Elephant Keepers and four Elephants, so each Keeper does the same foot on each Elephant daily to be sure there are no cracks, thorns or other problems. The feet need to hold up 4-5 tons of Elephant.

 

 

 

Trainers Have Choices

But let’s go back: today about half the zoos and all the circuses use Free Contact as a way of training and disciplining animals. With this method the trainer attempts to control the Elephant by inspiring fear with physical threats and aversion training techniques.

Want an elephant to lift her foot? Well, just jab her on her ankle with a pointed steel stick. She’ll jerk her foot away from the jab in self defense.

OR, you can simply invite the elephant to lift her foot by making it worth her while. With techniques like target training, the elephant associates making a certain move with getting a reward—food or attention—and so she wants to do it.

Keeper Gina Kinzley is taking our Elephant through a series of exercises for mental stimulation and to practice moves that might be needed for her medical care, like showing her foot. All she had to say was “switch” to get the other foot up. Note the strong barriers between her and the Elephant.)

 

Now imagine you’re an elephant and you have to do a bunch of things every day. If you are in a zoo, you need to go in and out of your barn, get your feet cared for, have a bath, get mineral oil rubbed on your skin and maybe have your ears, eyes or teeth checked. If you’re in a circus, you’re going to have to walk on your back legs, balance on a ball, let some woman ride on your back.

All these things, every day, can either be pleasant or unpleasant. You can either get rewarded for doing them, or punished if you don’t. Now ask yourself, in which of these conditions would you like to live your very long life?

That’s why, in 1992, Colleen instituted Protected Contact at the Oakland Zoo, making our Zoo the second in the nation to try it. It’s been working for 20

Cheri Matthews, a long-time Animal Management volunteer, helps with another Elephant's training by delivering the treats on cue as Gina explains the process

years and now, finally, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is mandating that all accredited zoos begin using these techniques by September of 2014. From the Elephants’ point of view, it can’t happen soon enough.

 

What are some of the hallmarks of Protected Contact?

First, there is an Elephant-proof barrier between the Keepers and the Elephants at all times or,  out in the exhibit, the Keepers maintain a distance of at least 20 feet. Our barriers are as high as the Elephants’ shoulders. Bathing and other longer procedures are done in a chute so the Keepers can move around the animal while staying protected.

 

“I’m done? Don’t be done!” This Elephant enjoyed her training exercises so much she didn’t want them to end.

 

Keepers use padded “target poles” and verbal cues to direct the Elephants to move. So, if they need to look at an Elephant’s eye, they might hold the pole near the side of the Elephant’s face so she can touch the pole. She’s rewarded with a whistle “bridge” and a little treat while the examination is conducted. Remember, the Keeper stays on the other of the fence.

Elephants get to decide what they do and when. Since the Keepers only ask them to do what’s in their best interest and  make it worth their while with treats, they generally decide to go along with the program. In fact, while I was watching one Elephant go through some mental stimulation activities, the others waltzed up and nudged into the space, wanting attention too.

 

Elephants are are never chained unless they are having a complicated medical procedure. In circuses and amusement parks, Elephants are tethered by chains around their legs nearly 100% of the time they aren’t performing. Imagine spending most of your life never being able to walk more than a few feet in any direction. Imagine how that would affect your health and mental attitude.

At the end of the day our Elephants return to their barns for a snack and 3-5 hours of taking the weight off. Jeff Kinzley shows us all the features of the new HUGE barn that is now the night-time home of our male Elephant.

This is the new barn for our male Elephant that's nearly 1200 square feet. There are three large skylights, and two steel doors, one hydraulic, the other manual. The floor is about four feet of sand, with one corner of the stall sloped to about six feet. Sand is much easier on their feet, and having a slope makes it easier for an elephant to get up and down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why don’t all trainers use Protected Contact?

Well, for one thing, it takes time and Elephants are expensive to feed. So if you want to make a profit off them, you’re not going to mess around with humane training techniques. And if you want to make sure (or try to make sure) that your performers and trainers can work closely with the Elephants, you might think they need to be afraid of you.

In fact, keepers, trainers and circus performers are killed every year by Elephants during Free Contact. Sometimes it’s just pure rage and revenge and sometimes it’s an accident. In either case, the Elephant is usually the one that is punished.

If you need proof of what an angry Elephant can do, watch this shocking video we were assigned in class, but warning: it is  disturbing and very sad. http://www.spike.com/video-clips/ur3qj9/most-dangerous-animals-elephant-attack

 

What Can We Do?

One way to stop the for-profit entertainment industry from abusing animals is to stop buying tickets to circuses and places where people can ride on Elephants all day long. We can go to events like Cirque du Soleil and the Pickle Family Circus which don’t rely on animals for entertainment. And we can teach our friends and family that it’s not OK to bully wild animals into performing. Maybe by the time they grow up, this will all be history. Greece recently banned animals from circuses, so there’s hope for the Western World.

The Zoo supports PAWS which helps animals in the entertainment industry. Both Colleen and Dr. Parrot, Executive Director of the Oakland Zoo, have testified in front of Congress to try to stop the abuses animals suffer as performers. Right now there’s a bill in front of Congress to stop the abuse of traveling animals. To learn how you can help get this important legislation passed, please go to http://www.pawsweb.org/animals_in_traveling_shows.html.

The Oakland Zoo’s Elephant care program has won the endorsement of PETA.

 

I’m so proud to be working in a Zoo that has such a long history of using civilized animal management techniques. And it’s not just with the Elephants, but with all our potentially dangerous animals. Keepers do bond with all their charges, but they never forget that they are working with wild animals—and they really don’t want to change them. They are perfect just as they are.

 

Next week, Birds and Reptiles on the African savannah.

Until then,

 

Volunteering, Zoo Ambassador Training, elephant, elephant barn, protected contact, target training, Colleen Kinzley, Jeff Kinzley, Gina Kinzley

Stepping Through ZAM: Day 7, Savannah Module

by | April 5th, 2012

Franette Armstrong is taking us with her on her adventures in Zoo Ambassador Training.

 

 

 

Elephantasia…. The condition of being delirious with love for Elephants after tonight’s two-hour lecture on the world’s largest land mammals. Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research has been working with Elephants for over 25 years and played a major role in changing the way zoos take care of them today…and in the near future. We’ll be seeing the results of that on Saturday.

Colleen Kinzley, a recognized expert in humane Elephant care.

But first, let me introduce you to some things you might not know about these massive walking wonders and see if I can make you fall under their spell the way Colleen did for us.

 

 

Major Bigness

Elephants have huge heads, as we can see, but their skulls are light because they are honeycombed with open sinuses. The lower jaw is very dense, however, to support their heavy trunks.

Inside that skull is the largest brain of all mammals. It weighs about eleven pounds but is only about one-third developed at birth, so it has enormous learning potential, like humans do. Most animals are born with all the brain connections they will have their entire lives, while Elephants and humans learn as they go, create memories, and act on those memories. It might not be true that an Elephant never forgets, but we know for sure they are capable of creating vast memory banks over their 60-70 year lifespan.

An Elephant head is a major marvel. Photo credit Steve Goodall

The heart of an Elephant weighs up to 40 pounds. Their huge kidneys make about 13 gallons of urine daily! One hundred feet of intestines only absorb 40-60% of the nutrients they eat, which is one reason they eat constantly. In the wild, Elephants forage up to 17 hours a day. Here at the Zoo our Keepers feed them hourly from dawn ‘til nearly midnight and then put them to bed with snacks.

Major Specialization

We have already learned that Elephants are Keystone animals in their environments: If they disappear, the entire ecosystem around them is likely to collapse. One reason for this is that they bulldoze everything in sight, clearing young trees from the Savannah so that grasses can grow and grazing hoofstock will have food.

But eating branches all day long requires special chewing molars and Elephants get six sets of four over a lifetime. A single tooth can weigh about five pounds. Go lift a 5-lb barbell and imagine having a bunch of those in your head. Each oblong tooth starts in the back of the mouth and gradually moves forward until it breaks off and gets pushed out by another. This “teething” goes on for about 50 years!

This Elephant lower jawbone shows two molars. Photo credit Honolulu Zoo

 

Elephants also have huge ivory tusks, as we know. The tusks are extended incisor teeth made up of calcium phosphate soft enough to be carved, and that is the root of all their troubles. As useful as they are for breaking branches, fighting and digging, these tusks have led to more elephant deaths from poaching than any natural cause.

We only see 2/3 of the tusks as the rest is embedded in the skull. They can grow about 7 inches a year and weigh 130 pounds each, but if they break, the broken end doesn’t grow back and a break can lead to a jaw infection because the tusk is full of nerves and veins like our teeth.

Since Elephants don’t have chainsaws or shovels, their highly evolved trunks take the place of tools for reaching, digging, and clever manipulation of anything they want to turn into food, or tools. Their trunks are an extension of their nose and upper lip and contain over 150,000 muscle parts.

Elephants are either right- or left-tusked the way most people have a dominant hand. You can tell which is the dominant tusk because it will be shorter and smoother from the extra use. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

 

 

Elephants can breathe underwater, using their trunks as a snorkel, and the trunks become showers, shovels and gentle hands to care for their calves, themselves and each other.

African Elephants have a “two-fingered” trunk unlike Asian Elephants which only have one finger. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

 

 

 

 

These giants tred lightly on feet that walk like cats and dogs—on the balls of their toes—which are protected by a spongey pad and thick nails. When they step down their feet expand and when they lift them they get smaller, so this is why, as heavy as they are, they don’t get stuck in their mudbaths. Those feet, capable of holding up a 9000-pound animal, are very  important and our Keepers take foot care very seriously, giving each of our Elephants a pedicure every single day.

Elephants can stand up all day long without getting tired because they can lock their leg joints so their muscles stay relaxed. Though they can’t run, hop, or gallop, they can move nearly 25 miles mph in a gait that takes three of their feet off the ground at one time.

 

Elephant feet, capable of holding up a 9000-pound animal, are very important. Our Keepers give each of our Elephants a complete pedicure every single day. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

Elephants communicate with infrasound— calls and rumbles that are so low in  frequency we can only “hear” them with electronics. These calls can travel several miles and Elephants use them to warn each other of danger (like bees and lions) and let each other know where they are.

 

Major Mating

Musth. That’s Hindu for “intoxication” and a male Elephant in musth is pretty much out of his mind with a sudden testosterone surge that can last two months or more. He’ll stop eating, rip through forests yanking out trees, fight any male that crosses his path, and concentrate only on getting every female to himself. He can lose 2000 pounds from all this excess energy.

And females actually consider these crazed musth males desirable—as mates, and as protection from the other suitors who would just as soon bug them night and day. All this works out because only the most fit males go into musth and the healthiest females get them for their mates, producing calves with the best chance of survival.

Elephant herds are nearly always made up of females and their young because males are pushed out to fend for themselves when they hit puberty and start playing too roughly with younger calves. While the females are cooperatively caring for the kids, the males battle each other for dominance and the rights to mate females from other herds. What else is new?

Major Problems

African and Asian Elephants are all that are left of their 600 now-extinct ancestors, including the Wooly Mammoth which actually lived right here in the Oakland Hills an Ice Age or two ago. Asian Elephants are highly threatened at this time and, if we don’t watch out, we could someday lose our African Elephants too.

These Elephants can live free without fear of culling in the Amboseli National Reserve in Kenya.

Ivory poachers continue to take more Elephants than any natural or accidental causes of death: Even the strongest Elephant is no match for automatic weapons, high-speed vehicles and new laws that allow much more killing.

On top of this, culling (killing) has become the solution of choice in areas where Elephants and people have different ideas about how the land is to be used.

Traditionally, Africans were nomadic people who lived harmoniously with their wild animals, but ranching and farming changed all that. Now you have a situation where 800 million people are trying to survive on land that is not that hospitable to start with. In fifty years that population will more than double and what will become of Elephants then?

This situation is similar to the near-extinction of millions of American Bison in the 1800s when barbed wire cut up their territories and gunpowder did the rest of the work. Human/animal conflicts occur everywhere, so no society can point fingers of blame. What we can do is help find alternatives before it’s too late. Projects like beehive fences are proving it doesn’t have to be an us/them proposition.

Major Efforts

Colleen, and our Zoo’s President & CEO, Dr. Joel Parrott, have led efforts here to raise over $100,000 since 1988 for the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. Next time you are at the Zoo, you can use your Conservation Quarter to “vote” for this research project that is helping to protect the amazing wild Elephants of Africa.

On Saturday our class is getting an incredible treat: a visit to the Elephant barns to see our groundbreaking methods of getting Elephants to participate in their own care. More about this later.