Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Zoo’

Down in the Dumps: A Visit to Our Waste Management Facility

by | May 22nd, 2015

 

Oakland Zoo Education Staff

Oakland Zoo Education Staff Onsite

Do you ever wonder what happens to all the stuff that gets thrown away in this world? Actually, there’s no such thing as “away.” Everything has to go somewhere. And around here, that somewhere is the Davis Street Transfer Station in San Leandro.  Recently, three of Oakland Zoo’s education department staff visited the facility to learn what goes on there.  For one of these employees, this trip was like a step back in time. In 2010 Katie Garchar spent a year interning at Davis Street as an environmental education associate, where she taught school kids about the importance of waste management.  But this time around she and her zoo coworkers, Felicia and Dan, were acting as chaperones for a class of fourth graders visiting the facility for the first time.

Along with a similar site in Fremont, the Davis Street Transfer Station holds these fieldtrips twice a day and generously provides free bus transportation to make it easier for local school kids to attend. These classes are one of the many aspects of StopWaste.Org, the public agency committed to reducing waste in Alameda County. In the onsite classroom the kids learn all about the Four R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot, the concepts that form the basis for reducing the amount of waste that we humans generate. After class, it’s time for a tour of the facilities. But first, the kids suit up in their protective gear: hard hats, safety goggles and bright reflective vests.  And then they learn all the safety rules.

aluminum being recycled

Aluminum ready to begin its new life

The first stop on the tour is the massive “MRF,” the Materials Recovery Facility, where all of the recyclable material gets sorted out. The idea here is to put as much of this stuff back into circulation as possible. Luckily, all of it can be recycled into new raw materials, such as aluminum, glass, plastic, cardboard and paper.

There’s another area called the C&D MRF, where material from construction and demolition projects is sorted and recycled. Lumber, concrete and metal all get broken down here or shipped to other facilities for further processing.  Then, at the composting area, organic waste from kitchens, gardens and yards is recycled into compost, mulch or woodchips and then sold to the public and local cities for reuse.

garbage pile

Garbage destined for the Landfill

The rest of the material goes to a place known as the Garbage Pit, where unfortunately, it’s destined for the landfill. From here, large capacity trucks known as “possum bellies” (each capable of carrying the weight equivalent of four full-grown elephants) take this trash to the Altamont Landfill facility near Livermore. One hundred of these trucks leave Davis Street each day, transporting a mind-boggling five million pounds of trash to that facility, where it sits and takes up space for a very long time, creating an ever-increasing burden on the environment.

During the tour, the kids get a chance to visit the Garbage Pit. Here the teacher leads them out onto a bridge that overlooks all the action, where big loaders move the material around. Then the kids are asked to point out anything they see that doesn’t belong there.  It’s a fun exercise that gets the kids to remember what they learned and to use their powers of observation. For safety reasons, rummaging and salvaging by the public is not allowed,

It takes an army of Trucks

It takes an army of Trucks

but it’s amazing what sorts of things show up in the trash—accidentally or deliberately. Katie said that if you’re ever unsure which bin to put something in at home, simply put it in the recycling. At least that way, it gets sorted and properly categorized. But anything you throw in the garbage goes straight to the landfill. So the next time you find yourself getting ready to throw something “away,” give some thought to where it might be going, and where it might end up. The decision you make today could easily have repercussions for generations to come!

 

Big Life, Big Victories! Celebrating Elephants Gala 2015

by | May 13th, 2015
Check out our lovely silent auction on May 16th. Help us protect the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park.

Check out our lovely silent auction on May 16th. Help us protect the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park.

There has been so much going on with elephants this year we can hardly keep up! Did you know that last fall Oakland Zoo aided in the banning of the bullhook in our own city? Yep, that’s right by 2016 the traveling shows with elephants will no longer be able to visit Oakland. Los Angeles has already been successful with a bullhook ban as well. Did you know that last month Ringling Brothers announced that by 2018 they will discontinue the use of elephants in their show? Due to the continuing pressure on the circus not being welcomed in cities across the country because of the treatment of their animals, they gave up the fight against advocates trying to create legislation to stop them. Did you know that this week the city of San Francisco banned the use of performing exotic animals for entertainment in the city? There’s a movement happening, a culture shift, and Oakland Zoo is proud to be a part of the change they have been advocating for, for the last thirty years. Still in the works are Senate Bill 716, a California state bill that will prohibit the use of the bullhook (including the use of a similar tool like a pitchfork), on or even around elephants. Also we are actively working on Assembly Bill 96, a California state bill that will end the legal sales of ivory in California. Yes, ivory is still legal to sell in the state. Just walk down the streets in San Francisco Chinatown and you’ll see it in shop windows. See my previous blog for more info on the issue.

Oakland Zoo is part of both coalitions who are working toward SB 716 and AB 96, collaborating with

Fund-a-need: A fantastic contribution you can make at our silent auction is to give funds toward equipment and supplies for the team that protects the elephants in Amboseli.

Fund-a-need: A fantastic contribution you can make at our silent auction is to give funds toward equipment and supplies for the team that protects the elephants in Amboseli.

some fantastic organizations who all seek the same outcome: the safety and survival of elephants. While we have been advocating for the past thirty years for the management and training style called Protected Contact Positive Reinforcement (PCP+), we also take responsibility that our mission is conservation and education. This year we have dedicated our 19th annual Celebrating Elephants events to fight for the passage of AB 96. We very much welcome Big Life Foundation as a new partner and a 2014 Quarters for Conservation vote. Did you know that when you enter the zoo, twenty five cents of your admission goes directly toward conservation, and you get a token to vote on one of three projects it will go toward? That’s pretty cool!

Amy Baird, Associate Director of Big Life Foundation will be our guest speaker for our 19th annual Celebrating Elephants Gala, on May 16th.

Amy Baird, Associate Director of Big Life Foundation will be our guest speaker for our 19th annual Celebrating Elephants Gala, on May 16th.

Big Life, founded by wildlife photographer Nick Brandt, and conservationist Richard Bonham, focuses on anti-poaching efforts and protects two million acres of land in the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem. Big Life is the only organization in East Africa that has coordinated anti-poaching rangers operating on both sides of the Kenya-Tanzania border. To date they have arrested 1790 poachers, and seized 3,012 poaching tools and weapons, while employing 315 rangers with 31 outposts and 15 vehicles.  They recognize that sustainable conservation can only be reached through a community based collaborative approach. Their vision is to establish a successful holistic conservation model in Amboseli-Tsavo that can be replicated across the African continent. They not only protect the elephants that live on this land, but all wildlife. We are lucky enough to have Amy Baird, Associate Director of Big Life to be our guest speaker at the Celebrating Elephants Gala on May 16th.

Please join us for a special Big Life presentation, followed by a reception with spirits and appetizers, and

peruse the lovely silent auction. Doors open at 6:00 pm. Tickets are available at the door or in advance

A forty plus years research study and conservation organization, on the behavior and ecology of African Elephants.

A forty plus years research study and conservation organization, on the behavior and ecology of African Elephants.

at: celebratingelephants2015.brownpapertickets.com. You may also make donations through this site if you can’t make it to the auction. And don’t forget to grab the entire family and join us for the day event on May 23rd, where you will experience the once-a-year opportunity to tour the elephant barn and talk to the staff about how the elephants are taken care of. For more detailed information check it out here:http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Celebrating_Elephants.php.  All proceeds of the two events go to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya, check out their website here: https://www.elephanttrust.org/.

Big Love for Elephants with Big Life!

by | April 24th, 2015

It started with a book:  1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I was planning a trip to Kenya — my last one had been 25 years earlier — and read this:

“An Unspoiled Corner of Kenya:  Ol Donyo Wuas, Chyulu Hills. The owner and occasional resident personality, Richard Bonham chose the site for its view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  Bonham himself occasionally pops up…”

Big Life, one of our Quarters for Conservation partners for 2014-15, is headquartered in the Chyulu Hills at Ol Donyo; Richard Bonham is one of the co-founders, along with photographer Nick Brandt.  Big Life protects 2 million acres of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of East Africa, encompassing portions of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Amboseli Tsavo ecosystem map
They implement the philosophy I heard about when I got there:  Wildlife Helping People.  Big Life is the largest employer of community members (predominantly Maasai) in the region, and the organization ensures that tourist revenue derived from wildlife in the ecosystem benefits the locals.

Richard Bonham grew up in Kenya, the son of a Kenya Wildlife Services ranger.  He recently received the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, and he thoroughly understands and appreciates Maasai economics and culture.

 

big life awardFor the Maasai, cattle are their wealth.  They live on semi-arid land that their cattle share with savannah grazers and browsers — elephants, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, antelopes, zebras — along with predators — lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas.  Young boys grow up herding and protecting cattle among all the resident wildlife, and they have a deep knowledge and appreciation of nature, with one exception:  lions are a traditional enemy, and when a lion kills a Maasai cow, teenage warriors retaliate — and prove their manhood — by killing a lion.

Over the last 25 years, Maasai elders — who serve as mentors for adolescents — have realized that their lion-killing tradition can’t continue.  Lions are among the iconic tourist draws, and if every Maasai warrior proved his manhood by killing a lion, tourist revenue would die with the lions.  In 2008, the elders asked Richard Bonham to brainstorm a solution with them, and together they came up with two schemes:  a predator compensation fund, from which the community partially compensates a family that loses cattle in spite of their best efforts to protect them; and the Maasai Olympics, where young men compete in traditional Maasai skills for prizes, displacing the need to kill a lion as a rite of passage.  The elders spent six months on education about the importance of the young generation in implementing a cultural change that would preserve the best of their traditions — but update their values to the realities of the 21st century.

Big Life and their partners have organized Maasai Olympics competitions in 2012 and 2014.  David Rudisha, the Maasai gold medalist in the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics, is a fervent supporter, and guest of honor.
2014-12-01-MaasaiWarriorJumps9.8ftduringMaasaiOlympics
During the last quarter of 2014, not one elephant, among the 2,000 that pass through, was poached in Big Life’s area of operation.  Most of the danger for elephants now lies in conflict with farmers:  elephants raid crops, or drain the water supply, potentially destroying a year’s livelihood.  Farmers retaliate by spearing the elephants.

And Big Life comes to the rescue:  a Kenya Wildlife Service vet flies to Ol Donyo when the staff spot a wounded elephant, treats the wound and sends the elephant back to the wild, hopefully wiser about where and what he chooses to eat and drink.

 

elephant down
The community around Ol Donyo now Gets It about conservation.  Big Life’s latest story:

They arrived with a just cause, eight construction workers to build a classroom. They must have wondered at all the animals, living in peace and not terrified of humans. Clearly they didn’t take the time to find out why.

And this led to a very bad decision. If no one else was eating all these animals, well then they would. They chased down a lesser kudu, an uncommon and shy antelope, and snuck the carcass into the school through a hole in a fence.

But they misjudged the people around them. The message went from a set of community eyes, via the Big Life control room, and straight to the rangers. The cooking fire wasn’t even warm by the time the ranger team arrived, and the men found themselves on their way to the police station. A bad end to their day.

Despite the on-going conflicts with elephants and predators, this is a community that has decided to conserve wildlife, and the sooner visitors get the message, the better for them.

Note: Big Life will be presenting at our annual Celebrating Elephants event on May 16th. Join us!

BeeYond the Sting: The Importance of Bees in Our World

by | April 24th, 2015

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word “bee?” Do you think of some pesky, stinging insect? Or do you see the bigger picture, appreciating how absolutely amazing they are and how much they contribute to the natural ecosystem? Sure, they produce honey. But there’s a lot more to bees than that. In fact, bees are among the most beneficial members of the animal community. They’re responsible for pollinating a long list of fruits, vegetables and nuts—crops that the entire world depends upon. Without bees, we humans would be in big trouble. But do you know what? Bees themselves are in big trouble. Their populations have been plummeting in recent years—a problem that’s almost exclusively human-caused. So they need our help.

Ready to work with the Bees

Ready to work with the Bees

What’s this got to do with Oakland Zoo? Well, the zoo has been considering starting its own bee program, similar to the ones at Happy Hollow Zoo, Coyote Point Museum, and the San Francisco Zoo. So recently, several members of the zoo’s education staff went on a field trip in Redwood City to visit the home of a man who knows quite a bit about bees. In fact, he’s a beekeeper. Richard Baxter of Round Rock Honey has been raising honeybees for 25 years now and even holds classes on the subject. On February 15th, Education Animal Interpretive Program Manager Felicia Walker and Olivia Lott, the lead Education Specialist for our Creek and Garden programs, attended one of these three-hour beekeeping courses. I recently had a chance to meet with Felicia and find out what she learned.

For one thing, honeybees are not native to this area. Although many types of bees can be found here, the species that produce honey originated in Africa before migrating to Europe and Asia. Then in the 1600s, Europeans introduced them to America. They’ve done very well here until recently, when environmental threats started seriously reducing their numbers.

The most critical of these threats is the use of pesticides—both in agriculture and at home. That’s often the problem with chemical-based solutions to problems: While trying to control harmful pests, we often harm beneficial animals in the process. For this reason Mr. Baxter uses strict organic methods in his beekeeping operations. In fact for the last 25 years, he’s been doing everything he can to ensure that bee populations rebound, like setting up additional bee hives for friends and at various public places in the area. He also sells the products that his own bees produce, such as beeswax, pollen, and honey as well as household products like soap, lotion, candles and lip balm that are made from these materials.

Hive frame being removed

Bees on a hive frame

The zoo’s education department hopes to make its own contribution by installing bee hives here at the zoo and in the surrounding park sometime in the future, utilizing the existing floral gardens as a natural environment. The zoo hopes to hold classes to teach the public about the importance of bees, for example through pollinator workshops that demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between various animals and the plant community.

Given the important role that bees play in our world you might be asking, “What can I do to help?” Mr. Baxter suggests three things that people can do. 1) Don’t use pesticides in your garden. 2) Become a beekeeper. 3) Join a local beekeeping guild. Remember, by advocating for bees you not only help them, but you also help all of us as well. So stay tuned to Oakland Zoo’s website for news. Hopefully you’ll be seeing some busy little additions to our zoo family soon!

Oakland Zoo Veterinarian in Africa – Part 5

by | February 27th, 2015

Wednesday Feb 25

Communication challenges…

 

This Wednesday morning we accompany a young American couple on their lion tracking adventure. Dr. Siefert is not available for this trek, so while Dr. Gottfried and I narrate and answer questions, James looks for the lions. Obviously we have learned much about the lions and the park ecology – maybe we have a future in eco-tourism?Cub and yawn

 

We return to the sight of the water buffalo kill, where we have again picked up Sharon’s signal. The buffalo carcass is reduced to mere bones with tiny bits of flesh, and no fewer than 15 white-backed vultures are scavenging the remains…there is no waste here in the park. Sharon and the cubs have moved up the hill and are out of sight in the thick tangle of thorns and low brush. It has become too treacherous for navigation by 4-wheel drive and we must turn back.Vultures

 

Though the morning has yielded no samples for our study, we have successfully located several more lions. More importantly, we have conveyed a wealth of information to some very receptive park tourists. Hopefully this morning has had an impact on them – now they can not only say they have seen lions, but they understand a little more about complex conservation issues.

 

This afternoon’s communication challenge seems more daunting. We return to the community visited a few days ago, where we paid part compensation for a calf killed by a leopard. Today, Dr. Siefert will present his ideas to move the community forward, and solicit a letter of support from them to apply for grant funding for these improvement projects.

 

The community meeting takes place on a few rickety wooden benches placed on the dusty ground underneath a tree. The chairman of the community, Eliphaz, and 10 other high-ranking community members are present. Several other men wander in and out, standing quietly behind the benches as Dr. Seifert talks. He attempts to establish himself as “not the police, not the UWA,” but someone who has the interests of wildlife and the community in mind. He describes how his own family in Germany re-established their financial stability following the “misery” of WWII using a combination of agriculture, animal products, and forest eco-tourism, including a pub and restaurant. His point is that this community can also be more successful financially by utilizing similar ideas.

 

The most pressing need is for construction of proper corrals for the livestock – made 9 meters tall, with wire fence material and weather-resistant poles, surrounded by a second bio-fencing barrier made of the invasive thorny bushes so prevalent throughout the park. Dr. Siefert introduces the concept of “zero grazing” by which livestock are fed on smaller fenced pastures with grasses cultivated by the community, leaving the park grasses available for wild prey species. Not wanting to leave anyone out, he proposes creating sport-fishing eco-tours for the fishermen in the community, and describes accommodations necessary for that industry.

 

Finally, one man breaks his silence, and Eliphaz translates for us. The community members would like to comment and are becoming impatient! I have the impression that Dr. Siefert’s ideas are a bit overwhelming. They agree that proper livestock pens are essential, but balk at the idea of shared community pens. They argue that people need to be able to check their livestock throughout the day while at home, there is too much potential for disease transmission, and someone would have to be paid to maintain the outside perimeter wire and bio-fence. Dr. Siefert nods, as if understanding, but reminds the group that community pens are more reasonable given UCP’s limited funds.Tail

 

After a lively discussion, the community decides that they will only agree to support construction of a separate pen for each family, even if that means waiting indefinitely until the funding is available. Dr. Siefert reluctantly consents, requesting cost estimates to be available tomorrow when we return with a letter of support for them to sign. We close the meeting with my statement as a representative of Oakland Zoo, and shake hands again. A woman who has been silent throughout the meeting speaks up, saying that she is happy for the help, unless we are the ones who brought the leopard to the village.

 

We drive away with mixed emotions. Dr. Siefert’s ideas have been received and discussed honestly, yet in the end, there is always suspicion. He is baffled by the accusation that he (or we!) moves leopards around the park. I try to understand the resistance to change and improvements in the community, and wonder how best to resolve this communication challenge…

Changing of the Guard: Welcoming Our New ZooCamp Director

by | February 23rd, 2015
Liz Low (aka Firefox)

Liz Low (aka Firefox)

Howdy Pard’ners! There’s a new camp sheriff in town. Yep, for the first time in eight years, Oakland Zoo has a new ZooCamp Director, Ms. Liz Low (aka Firefox.) The former director recently moved on to other responsibilities at the Zoo, leaving the door open for Assistant Director Liz to move on in. Originally from San Jose and coming from a background in Animal Science at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Liz joined Oakland Zoo in 2010. Starting out as a ZooCamp counselor, where she worked directly with the kids, she eventually became the camp clerk until being promoted to Assistant Director in 2014. So as you can see, she’s worked her way right up that ZooCamp ladder, making her the perfect candidate for the job.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with Liz and find out how she’s been settling into her new position. It’s a big responsibility: juggling a dozen counselors and hundreds of kids while interacting with parents and dealing with curriculum, activities, and the occasional bee sting or skinned knee. Liz said it took a

Liz joining the festivities onstage

Liz joining the festivities onstage

little time for her to put all the pieces together, but she reports that all is running smoothly now. It was a big help that the staff was very supportive and made her feel welcome right from the beginning. The biggest challenge, she says, is remembering all the little things that need to be done. (She did admit that on occasion, she’s made a call or two to her predecessor, Sarcosuchus, to get a question answered.) Liz says she plans to keep things the same as they were for the time being, but hopes to eventually make a few changes to reflect her own personal style.
One of the things she’ll be continuing is the Conservation Partner program, whereby one dollar from each summer ZooCamp registrant goes directly to a conservation organization. For this year’s recipient, Liz chose Northern California based PAWS (the Performing Animal Welfare Society) that advocates for performing animals and provides sanctuary for abused, abandoned or retired captive wildlife.
Liz was happy to announce something new for ZooCamp this year: the “Conservation Crew,” a middle school curriculum based on Oakland Zoo’s commitment to conservation. For campers entering grades 6,7 or 8, Conservation Crew is a great opportunity to learn what projects the Zoo administers, which organizations the Zoo supports, and equally important, what kids can do locally to foster conservation “in their own backyards.”
Now that Oakland Zoo offers ZooCamp several times throughout the year, you never have long to wait

ZooCamp Smiles

ZooCamp Smiles

until the next session begins. In fact, the next camp will be offered during Spring Break. Registration opened on February 17 and camp runs from March 30 through April 3, and again from April 6 through 10. And it won’t be long until Summer ZooCamp rolls around. Members’ registration for summer opens March 9, with non-members registering starting March 16.
And with Liz moving up, she left a vacancy herself. Her successor as Assistant Director is Kayla Morisoli (aka Hawk) who started last year as one of the camp counselors. If your kids will be attending ZooCamp this year, they’re sure to meet both Firefox and Hawk here at Oakland Zoo. So don’t forget those registration dates. We’ll see you at camp!