Posts Tagged ‘Elephants’

Stepping through ZAM: Day 5, Children’s Zoo Module

by | November 23rd, 2011
All Zookeepers are comedians. Well, that might not be true, but the three we have met so far have been a lot of fun to listen to. I guess you have to have a sense of humor if you are going to follow goats or bats around all day at the Oakland Zoo.
Zoo Org Chart
Tonight we heard about how animal management at our Zoo is organized. The animals are divided into Strings and a primary zookeeper is responsible for each String. The Strings usually, but not always, correspond to where the animals live in the Zoo.
This can result in some strange collections for a zookeeper to care for. For example, tortoises are in the same String as zebras. Hornbills are cared for by the same keeper as the chimps. Lemurs go with the rabbits. Who knew?
Each String has, at the very least, a primary and a relief keeper plus a floating keeper who roams from one String to the next as needed. The elephants make up a string all by themselves and it takes four full-time keepers to manage their daily pedicures and all their other needs.
Margaret Rousser, who supervises the nine keepers related to the Children’s Zoo introduced us tonight to our River Otters and Bats.
Margaret Rousser, Zoological Manager
Our Zoo is part of the AZA Population Management Plan (PMP) for River Otters. The  two otter pups born here last spring, were the result of the AZA deciding that our otters had the right genetic strains to breed.
When Tallulah and Ahanu are at least a year old they likely will move to another AZA-accredited zoo to carry on the PMP program there. This is the way species are preserved in Zoos. There are dozens of these programs in operation throughout our Zoo.
Our River Otter pups
Did you know that animals raised by their own parents become better parents to their own offspring? Our otter pups were taken care of so well by their mom that our staff couldn’t even hold them at 12 weeks: they were just as wild as if they had been born on a riverbed somewhere. They are trainable, so that they can be cared for by our staff, but will never be tame and that’s what we all want. AZA zoos freely give each other animals so that species can be preserved.
Flying Foxes (AKA Fruit Bats)
Our Fruit Bats represent only two of over 1000 species of bats in the the world. The Malayan Flying Foxes,  our largest, have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. The Island Flying Foxes are smaller and sometimes visitors think they are babies. They aren’t, and we won’t be having any because all our bats are male.
An Island Flying Fox
Bats have fruit, heat and teddy bears to make them happy here. The toys were the creative idea of their keepers concerned that the  males were having trouble controlling themselves during mating season and this was causing injuries. When they were given stuffed toys, they all “bonded” with the bears instead of each other. We give our bats a temperature-controlled house for them to go in and out of, a huge aviary, and a balanced diet that they have to be tricked to eat. They love fruit, so we toss it in a sauce made of veggies and powdered vitamins. Fruit Bats are ideal for zoos because they are active in the daytime. Insect Bats would be pretty boring to watch because they go hunting at night and sleep all day.
Life in the Contact Yard
The animals in our contact yard (sometimes called the petting zoo) were introduced to us by Liz Abram, their keeper. It’s the only place in the Zoo where people can touch the animals, so we future docents needed some tips to pass along to the kids. It’s all about safety: don’t pet a goat’s head because he will butt you, wash your hands after petting the animals or being in the yard, don’t pick up stuff off the ground, wear shoes.
Here are just a few fun facts from Liz’s presentation:
Goats are social, Sheep are shy. Sheep can’t raise their tails, but goats can, and goats have beards which our sheep don’t. Sheep that shed are used for meat. Sheep that are used for wool don’t shed and have to be shorn. We have the shedding kind and brush them regularly. The wool that is brushed off gets used in other animal’s enclosures for sensory enrichment.
Our Pygmy Goats aren’t pregnant, they are just built that way. They have a two-chambered stomach like cows and they’re stocky because they were bred for meat.
Nubian Goats have long ears for the same reason rabbits do: to regulate their body temp. Elephant ears function the same way. So do horns on animals, surprisingly.
Long ears help keep the Nubian Goat cool.
The ears and horns are loaded with blood vessels that, being so close to the surface, allow the blood to be cooled as the ears are flapped or the horns run through a breeze.
Guinea Forest Hogs are a rare domestic breed and there are only about 200 left in the world. We have two of them.
Our puppy and kittens are new to the Zoo and in training to be Pet Ambassadors to kids who might be fearful of dogs or cats or might not have the chance to have their own pets. Our instructor, Sarah, predicts that Lily Rae, our Golden Retriever pup, will soon become kids’ most popular animal in the Zoo.
Lily Mae, Puppy Ambassador
Saving the few Lemurs that are left
All Lemurs come from Madagascar and, because of habitat destruction and hunting, are highly endangered. They have already lost 90% of their home turf.
Our Ring-Tailed Lemurs are part of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSPs actively keep endangered species going in captivity with as much genetic diversity as possible.
The little Blue-Eyed Black Lemurs are the only primates besides humans that have blue eyes.
Like Elephants and Meerkats, Lemurs live in matriarchal societies. The young males are kicked out of their family group when they are old enough to mate to prevent inbreeding.
This Ring-Tailed Lemur backs down a tree like it’s a fire pole.

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.

The island country of Madagascar has one of the most diverse animal populations on earth, yet species are disappearing every day. If you’d like to learn more about Lemurs and the other animals being pushed off the planet by population explosion and tree-cutting, start here.
You can help rainforest animals by using only paper and wood with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification which assures it came from a sustainable forest. The Oakland Zoo uses FSC wood or wood substitutes whenever possible.
Tonight’s homework is to explore what pets are and aren’t—300 words minimum. Better get started. While I’m doing that, you can be thinking: What is a pet?
Talk to you Saturday,
Franette

Operation Pumpkin Pick Up

by | November 18th, 2011

Just some of the few dedicated Oakland Zoo staff and volunteers who made operation pumpkin pick up run smoothly. Photo by J. Moore.

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.

Pumpkins for months to come! Photo by author.

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.

Lisa elephant eats a decorated treat box, while her companions walk around in search for themed card board cut outs, candy corn, and festive popsicles. Photo by author.

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!!

Don’t Support the Circus

by | August 1st, 2011

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.

Fifteen Years of Celebrating Elephants

by | July 19th, 2011

Elephant Keepers Gina and Jeff explain the difference between free contact and protected contact management styles on a barn tour. Photo by Tana Montgomery.

Once again it was a successful year for our Annual Celebrating Elephants fundraiser. The event was split into two days; one full day at the Zoo where families came out to see fun enrichment for the elephants on exhibit, and also got the

Donna and Lisa enjoy twenty-five foot long tree trunks planted in the ground by their keepers. Photo by Tana Montgomery.

opportunity for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of our barn set-up, including a training and foot care demo with one of our elephants. Kids also had the opportunity to create fun enrichment boxes and bags for the elephants to eat, enjoy the animal-free Circus Finelli, and eat popcorn and cotton candy! The second part of the event was the evening lecture and silent auction where guests enjoyed wine and delicious appetizers while they bid on beautiful animal themed gift baskets, art work and photos. Most importantly, we had a guest speaker, the wonderful Winnie Kiiru, one of Amboseli’s top PhD students who studies and works to help with human-elephant conflict.   Winnie was a captivating and enthusiastic speaker, offering insight into the lives of the Maasai people and how they work to live with the elephants.

Jessica demostrates target training with Osh during a barn tour. Photo by Tana Montgomery.

This event is very important to the Oakland Zoo for two reasons. The first reason is that all the proceeds go to Cynthia Moss’s  Amboseli Trust for Elephants (www.elephanttrust.org ). Cynthia has been working on elephant conservation in Kenya for almost forty years; the longest running research study on African Elephants in the world. Mostly everything we know about these majestic creatures is due to Cynthia and her team’s effort and passion for the conservation and well-being of these animals.

The second reason for this event is to raise awareness of the cruelty to animals in circuses. During the behind-the-scenes barn tour, guests spend about thirty minutes learning how elephants should be managed in captivity through positive reinforcement and protective barriers. They are shown a training demo on how keepers can safely work with elephants in a gentle and positive way (See my Let Elephants Be Elephants blog for more details on this management style).

We are proud to say that this year we raised over 18,000 dollars for Amboseli.  All of the proceeds from the day and

Crowds of people watch Elephant Keeper John demostrating safe foot care during the barn tour. Photo by Tana Montgomery.

the evening events go directly to support Cynthia’s research to protect the elephants. Over the past fifteen years, we have donated more than $200,000 for Amboseli. Thank you to everybody who was able to make it to the day or the lecture. We hope you had lots of fun! If you didn’t join us this year make sure to come out next year (May 19 and 26, 2012) to help us celebrate how truly wonderful elephants are and to learn more about the Amboseli elephants by Cynthia herself. See you then!

Also, if you love to watch elephants. Don’t miss Feast for the Beasts on July 23. During this fun event, the public is invited to donate produce to the animals. The first 250 guests through the door will receive a special ticket that allows them to place produce inside of the elephant exhibit. Once all the produce in place, Zoo visitors get to watch our four elephants devour watermelons, apples, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, and much more. It is fun for the whole family. The doors open at 9:00am for Feast for the Beasts, so arrive early!

Let Elephants Be Elephants

by | June 20th, 2011

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.

John Briggs, Elephant Keeper, demonstrates the use of target training with positive reinforcement. Osh presents his foot to the target and he gets a treat.

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.

Oakland Zoo elephants grazing on two acres of grass. This is what you would see in the wild.

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.

Happy Sweet Sixteen Oshy!

by | May 23rd, 2010

Osh enjoying his meadow standing at 9'10", photo by author

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

Osh when he first arrived to OZ in 2004, photo by Todd Hollerson

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 gently rubs his ear on Donna, photo by author

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.