To merge with another tribe, male Lemurs have to move in on another male’s turf and they do this by conducting Stink Wars—an amusing but peaceful way of establishing dominance. They have musty scent glands on their wrists that they rub against their tails and then they flash their tails at each other to see who has the strongest smell. The winner gets the females and a chance to breed. I’m guessing the loser is grossed out and takes a hike.
After another bottle of Advil, it was yet another successful year of pumpkin gathering. Once again, the Oakland Zoo staff and volunteers made an endless team effort to make operation pumpkin pick-up run smoothly. We picked up well over a thousand pumpkins from small to extra large (the back-breaking kind). This doesn’t include the four giant boxes of mini pumpkins, holding at least a few thousand tiny morsels all together. The elephants especially love these bite-sized treats so if you come to the daily feedings you’ll probably see the keepers rolling the minis into the grass, providing the elephants with something like an Easter egg hunt. All of the animals benefit from the pumpkins which provide different types of enrichment from food to furniture to fun.
This is of important value to the zoo as the patches donate the remains after Halloween, which would otherwise most likely be composted. We would like to give special thanks to Johnnie Moore with Moore’s Pumpkins, Holly Prinz of Pick of the Patch Pumpkins, and Tommy Speer of Speer Family Farms, for their generous donations once again this year. Please come by and enjoy the pumpkin festivities for November and December.
With the sun shining brightly that weekend, I am happy to say that Boo at the Zoo was a huge hit this year. Hundreds of visitors gathered around to watch the animals get festive Halloween themed enrichment and pumpkins, participate in the costume parade, and get a treat bag with animal friendly, palm oil free candy. You might have even gotten to see a keeper or two dressed up! Thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate the most fun holiday of the year!!
You may have seen the ads that the Circus is in the Bay Area. For me it is a sad reminder that many elephants, tigers and other wild animals still suffer miserable lives in the circus.
For example the elephants spend most of their lives confined by short chains, and rarely, if ever, get to do normal elephant behaviors like grazing on grass or swimming. They are also forced by trainers to do unnatural and sometimes dangerous behaviors like standing on small tubs and turning in circles, or forming a chain of elephants; each elephant standing her front feet on the back of the other. The circus trainers use bullhooks, a stick with a sharp hook and point, to punish the elephants if they don’t do what the trainer wants them to do. For more information about the suffering of wild animals in entertainment visit the Animal Defenders International website at www.ad-international.org
Human circus performers perform by choice and are wonderful to watch. Be sure if you go to a circus it is one of the fabulous animal free= cruelty free circuses like the Pickle Circus and Cirque du Soleil.
Here at the Oakland Zoo we have strong beliefs and views on animal welfare. We do everything we can to provide our animals with what they need, including space with the appropriate substrates, social dynamics, as well as enrichment and training for both physical and mental stimuli. Everything we do takes into consideration the health and well-being of the animal as well as the safety of the keeper. Wild animals can be dangerous and in no way should be treated like a pet. We work with them in a protected contact type of management to ensure our safety and theirs. You might be thinking why does the animal need to be safe? Aren’t you the one in
danger? The answer is yes. I am in danger should I walk into an enclosure and right up to an animal, but for me to be able to do that involves punishment on the animals part. If you have been to a circus before you have seen all the different animals they work with up-close and personal. This is not because the animals enjoy being in the circus and close to their handlers; this is because the animals are forced and beaten to behave.
Since I am an elephant keeper, let’s talk about elephants specifically. Working with the largest land mammal on earth is definitely intimidating. People think they are gentle giants but more often they are extremely dangerous. For decades these intelligent creatures have had to put up with being in the circus where their handlers have abused them into submission, beating them with what is called an “ankus” or “bullhook”. When you see the handlers inside the enclosure working directly with the elephant, this is called a free contact type of management.
Most often these elephants are beaten and abused, screamed at, and chained up for hours on end. There are hours of caught on tape footage from animal welfare groups of elephants being beaten for just standing and minding its own business. This is so the handler can keep the elephant in check, so that it never knows when it’s going to get hit. The reason for this abuse is so the handler can be dominant over the elephant so the handler doesn’t get killed. There is no reason for this type of management. If you have to abuse an animal just to get what you want it to do then you shouldn’t be doing it at all. Unfortunately this type of management system is still used in zoos today. Although not all of these facilities may be heavy handed, there is still always a danger of working with a 10,000 pound animal directly, which is why a keeper or circus handler is killed every year.
At Oakland we use a management system called Protected Contact. This style means that we only use positive reinforcement, and are always protected by a barrier whether it be spatial or with fencing. When we ask our elephants to do something they are always reinforced with treats. This keeps us and the elephants safe. When we are training we stand outside the fence line and use target poles, which are a long piece of bamboo or rake handle with a soft tip, to target a part of the body that we need. Most of our training is for husbandry and health purposes, but we do fun stuff as well such as catching a stick in the trunk or picking up an object when thrown. Fun stuff is okay as long as it is not strenuous on the elephants. A lot of the behaviors you might see in the circus such as legs stands are taxing on the joints and in the long term can cause arthritis and all other types of health issues.
So if this protected contact management style is so much better why doesn’t everyone use it? I don’t have a good answer for this other than selfishness. Free contact handlers think since they are in the same space they have a better relationship with the elephant, and that they can accomplish more with the animal behavior wise. There’s no reason to work in the same space as an elephant if it means that I have to abuse it and it might someday snap and kill me. At our facility we can accomplish anything we train, such as foot care, blood draws, ultrasounds, etc. I would rather see an elephant out on 6.5 acres grazing and browsing and interacting freely with one another, than standing next to me in fear, wearing some silly outfit, chained up for hours on end, performing unnatural tricks for profit. So, please support the Oakland Zoo and let elephants be elephants! Don’t go to the circus, the cruelest show on earth! Support your local non-animal circus’ such as Teatro Zinzanni and Cirque de Soleil. A huge thank you to those of you that attended our Annual Celebrating Elephants Fundraiser. We have raised more than 200,000 dollars over the past fifteen years and all of the proceeds go toward world renowned elephant researcher Cynthia Moss’ Amboeseli Elephant Trust, protecting African Elephants through conservation and research.
On July 23, bring the family to the Oakland Zoo for Feast for the Beasts. The public is invited to donate produce to the animals. The first 250 through the door (door opens at 9:00am) will receive a ticket to place produce in the elephant exhibit! Once all the produce is in place, guests can watch the elephants goggle down grapes, watermelon, apples, lettuce, carrots, and treats. The elephant feeding is so much fun. Be sure to get to the Zoo by 9:00am to be a part of the produce spreading at the elephant exhibit.
We are celebrating Osh’s sweet sixteen on May 24th by spoiling him with lots of his favorite treats, like usual, since he’s the only boy elephant at the Oakland Zoo. Weighing in at 10,100 pounds and standing at 9 feet 10 inches tall, the studly young man is all legs. His father Yossi, of Israel, is thought to be one of the tallest bulls in captivity standing at about 12 feet tall. When Osh arrived he was only eight feet tall and about seven thousand pounds. We project that when Osh is thirty years of age he will be as tall as his father, and continue growing!
Osh came to us from Howletts Wild Animal Park all the way in England. While at Howletts, Osh was housed with his mother and aunties but was coming of age and beginning to be kicked out of the herd. This is a natural occurrence in the wild where the females will start to kick out the young males from nine to twelve years of age. The young males then go
on to seek out new territory, learn from older males, and find new females. Osh needed a new home, so our keepers flew out to Howletts in 2004 and brought him home by plane, ferry, and truck, a very long and exhausting journey.
Everyone took a liking to Osh, everyone but Donna, our dominant female. During the first introduction she chased him around the yard and then knocked him to his knees. They did not have full access to each other for two years, until after a year of cooperative feeding training, wherein they were successfully reintroduced. This type of training teaches the dominant animal to allow the subordinate to stand close by while receiving food treats without being aggressive. Osh now has the closest relationship with Donna amongst the girls. She often times backs into him and even shys away from him when food is involved even though he is never aggressive toward her. He is still subordinate to Lisa and M’Dunda, but frequently solicits play with them over the fence line during the evening, and even with M’Dunda on exhibit during the day.
Osh is a very playful young boy, loves interaction with both his keepers and the other elephants. He enjoys long walks in the grass and hours of grazing and browsing. Palm, birch, and elm are a few of his favorite trees to eat. He has been spotted in the pool a few times now thrashing around with his feet and trunk just for fun. When he walks he loves to bobble his head, and hangs his head very low, giving him the appearance of being shorter than the females. The top of his left ear is folded over the wrong way from birth and his right tusk is very small and downward pointing making him easy to identify. So far he has not shown any behavioral signs of musth, although his testosterone levels have been as high in comparison to bulls in captivity that have been in musth. He has a very playful demeanor as a sixteen year old boy does, so we often call him a punk, even though he’ll always be our little boy.