Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Zoo’

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!

Zoo Veterinarian Blogs from Uganda Part 2

by | February 20th, 2015

Oakland Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Andrea Goodnight, and volunteer veterinarian, Dr. Sharon Gottfried, are working with the Uganda Carnivore Program (UCP) in Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), Uganda this February. They will be assisting UCP veterinarian, Dr. Ludwig Siefert, in his daily conservation activities, while also conducting a study to evaluate stress hormone levels in African lions in the park.

February 17 (afternoon)

Back to a different reality…

Our next stop is one of the enclaves (villages) within the park. When QENP was created in 1952, multiple villages existed. Instead of relocating the residents, the government allowed these enclaves to remain, and traditional fishing or pastoral cattle herding continues today. These enclaves contain 30,000 people. Add the 70,000 in villages bordering the park, and human-wildlife conflict is inevitable.

Corral-lights_webDr. Siefert explains that the people in this enclave have made some positive changes to mitigate the problems caused by predators. We visit with Eliphaz, a community leader who has lost chickens and cattle to a leopard. Working with UCP, Eliphaz has constructed a better corral for the cattle, complete with solar powered flashing lights to detract predators. We deliver more lights for him and others in the community. He thanks us graciously, especially mentioning Oakland Zoo and its support for UCP’s community projects.

Hen-house_webUnfortunately, Dr. Siefert points out the henhouse behind Eliphaz’s house, shaking his head. The door is falling off the hinges, and there are holes in the walls. “Why hasn’t he fixed it? This is not the poorest village…he can afford to make those changes.” Apparently work ethic is a little different in the enclaves than in some other parts of the world. Yet another challenge to overcome…

We make plans to meet again with Eliphaz and representatives of the community to discuss conflict mitigation, but our next appointment awaits, and Dr. Siefert insists on promptness.

The UWA headquarters is located outside of QENP. It is a simple concrete structure with a main reception area and several offices. We are greeted warmly and sit down to wait for the Conservation Area Manager…and we wait. There is a slight breeze through the open window, and a little flycatcher bird sits on the ledge, apparently interested in joining the conservation negotiations. We keep waiting. Multiple office workers and wardens come in and out of the office…and we wait. An hour later, the Area Manager appears, ushering us into his office, not in any apparent hurry. There is a saying here that comes to mind. TIA – “This is Africa!”

Village-visit_webAttending the meeting are the Conservation Area Manager, the UWA veterinarian, and a UWA tourism representative. For the next 30 minutes, Dr. Siefert presents his ideas for improved human-wildlife coexistence in QENP, then the Area Manager reviews them, slowly, point-by-point. A discussion ensues, with general agreement that these are good ideas and should be implemented; however, written proposals are needed and must then be reviewed. We leave the meeting feeling neutral and unsatisfied – was this simply politics or will changes really occur? Tomorrow is the next step…proposals to write…

 

 

Wed/Thurs Feb 18/19

Down time and prep time…

Traditional-hut_webWednesday morning, James takes a tourist group on a lion tracking adventure. Alas, there are not enough seats in the vehicle, so we are left behind. We spend a relaxing day at the Mywea Lodge, discussing and writing about the events of the last several days.

In the evening, we accompany James on another venture to try to find a male lion. As we drive through a different section of the park, James warns, “take care, watch yourself!” to avoid the thorny bushes overtaking the road. He explains that these plants are extremely invasive, offer minimal food for prey, and prevent people from seeing the animals. This situation is yet another example of how the park’s natural ecosystem is collapsing. There is no lion sighting this evening and we head back to our room as a thunderstorm rolls in.

Sample-processing_webThursday dawns brighter as the overnight rain has largely cleared the air. For the first time since arriving, we see the towering Rwenzori mountain range north of the park. After breakfast, we enter Dr. Siefert’s lab to experiment with our sample preparation technique. We will be testing the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) in fecal samples from lions. Unfortunately, this hormone degrades very quickly, so we must preserve the feces in order to bring the samples to the laboratory in the US.

Our hope is to determine the relative stress levels of the lions in QENP, especially as related to human activity. With this information, Dr. Siefert and the UWA may be able to make better management recommendations. A few hours later, we settle on our preliminary fecal preservation method, which includes a spaetzle press “borrowed” from Dr. Siefert’s kitchen! (Funnily enough, he doesn’t want it back!)

Crafts_webWe take a break from our scientific endeavors this afternoon to visit a local women’s group located in the shadow of the Rwenzori chain. The women welcome us warmly and show us their traditional huts. We learn how make and store cheese, and how the rennet (leftovers from cheese making) is used as a skin lotion. Supported by UCP, the women also make and sell crafts, many of which we purchase!

The day draws to a close with errands in the nearest large town, Kasese. There is constant motion in town – people walking, on bicycles, or on motorcycles – women carrying brightly colored market bags and children with their school books. It is hot and dusty today, just as I have always imagined Africa. We marvel at the sights, and fall into bed in the evening exhausted yet exhilarated.

Oakland Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Goodnight travels to Uganda to help lions!

by | February 20th, 2015

IMG_6012Oakland Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Andrea Goodnight, and volunteer veterinarian, Dr. Sharon Gottfried, are working with the Uganda Carnivore Program (UCP) in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda this February. They will be assisting UCP veterinarian, Dr. Ludwig Siefert, in his daily conservation activities, while also conducting a study to evaluate stress hormone levels in African lions in the park.

 Days 1-2

 Getting There…

Dubai

Dubai

We left SFO on Thursday Feb 12 at 4pm, to arrive 15 hours later in Dubai on Friday Feb 13 at 7pm. The astute among you may wonder about my math…nope, it’s not wrong – we’re just time traveling! During the long layover we learned some history while viewing the highlights of Dubai: the Al-Faruk mosque, Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world at 1820 feet), lavish hotels (rooms from $500 – $35,000 per night), and finally stopped to dip our fingers in the Arabian Sea at Jumeirah Beach! Dubai is a city of lights – strings of lights engulf entire buildings, drip from palm trees, and dance on top of towers, leaving us to wonder if Dubai’s residents ever experience stars twinkling in the night sky…and how different Uganda’s nights are likely to be…

Days 3-4

Still Getting There…

Back to the enormous, ultramodern Dubai International Airport for the second leg of the journey. Six hours later we arrive in a different world, complete with only one small paved airstrip, a simple airport terminal, and friendly Ugandan faces and voices. “You are most welcome!” we hear as we make our way through immigration. It is too late in the afternoon to drive to QENP, so we stay in Entebbe, a modern African city, for the night. Our guesthouse is comfortable and

Dr Gottfried with a village child.

Dr Gottfried with a village child.

welcoming, the back garden a mecca for multitudes of songbirds, geckos, and mosquitos!

Village children who climbed into the driver's seat of our van and the chaos that ensued as they explored the van!

Village children who climbed into the driver’s seat of our van and the chaos that ensued as they explored the van!

Day 4 begins before sunrise, as we meet our driver, Peter, to begin the 8-hour journey through the Ugandan countryside to QENP. Today is Sunday, and people are headed to church services, walking along the side of the road, the women wearing their finest dresses – the brightly colored fabrics are a sharp contrast to the general tan haze that hangs in the air. We pass villages with names such as Mbarara, Bushenyi, and Ruburizi, each consisting of dusty red dirt streets, homes, shops, and lots of people on motorbikes. I feel a long way from home…

Typical Ugandan village

Typical Ugandan village

We make a final stop in a village just outside the park gates where Dr. Siefert will meet us. As if they have specialized radar detection, the village children appear out of nowhere, tapping at the windows, holding our hands, and asking for sweets. They are infatuated with our pale skin, earrings, Dr. Gottfried’s tattoos, and my toenail polish! Lucky for us, Dr. Siefert soon arrives, the driver shoos the children away, and we are ready for a conservation adventure.

 

(Still) Day 4

Work begins…

After a quick check-in to our simple hostel accommodations, we sit down with Dr. Seifert and his research assistant, James, for a briefing about the current situation in the park: these are the real African conservation dilemmas.

QENP is located in the southwestern corner of Uganda, covering an area of approximately 764 square miles of the Rift Valley Floor, including Lakes George and Edward. Most of the parkland is grassland savannah, with stunning views of the Virunga and Rwenzori mountains (on clear days). Featuring one of the highest biodiversity ratings of the world’s national parks, QENP is home to approximately 100 mammal species and over 500 bird species. Sounds like paradise, right?Ele dust bathMongoose in lodge

Unfortunately, this biodiversity is in severe distress. There is currently a drought in the park, huge sections of the park are burned, the lakes are overfished, and many of the apex predators have been poisoned by people in the surrounding villages.

We head out to track one specific lioness that needs her radio collar replaced. The changes in the park since I first saw it almost 4 years ago are shocking. The land is black underneath dry remains of grasses, with minimal new vegetation. A heavy gray haze hangs in the air – smoke from nearby fires. A few Uganda kob and gazelle stand amidst the charred area, quickly darting away when our research vehicle nears. Dr. Siefert remarks, “They never used to run away like that. They are more worried about us since the fires.”

We continue through the park, James, Dr. Gottfried and I on the top of the truck, antenna in hand, hoping to hear the lionesses’ signal. Ultimately this evening, we don’t find her, but we do see a few promising signs that not all is lost. A group of at least 20 elephants stops our progress down one section of road! Apparently, the elephant population has not been as affected as others by the changes in the park.

This first evening is a sobering reminder of why we are here. There is much work to be accomplished: change human actions, reverse the damage, and repopulate the park. As we debrief after tracking, Dr. Siefert reveals that these changes may be almost impossible to make in time to prevent complete extinction of many of the parks’ animals; however, he will continue the mission tomorrow – as long as tomorrows keep coming.

Tuesday Feb 17 (morning)

It’s another tomorrow…

Unfortunately, there’s very bad news this morning. A young male lion crossed the border from Tanzania yesterday afternoon and entered a village. The residents surrounded the lion and pelted it with stones. The lion retaliated and a villager was killed. At that point, the wildlife ranger had no choice but to euthanize the lion. Dr. Siefert had been called, but we simply could not get to the village in time to intervene and relocate the lion.Papa

In a somber mood, Dr. Siefert, James, Dr. Gottfried and I must take some tourists on a morning game drive to track lions. We drive deep into the northeastern corner of the park. On the way, our mood lifts a little…I spot a creature with a distinctive loping gait far across the savannah. It’s a hyena, returning to its daytime resting spot after a night of hunting! Hyenas are so critically endangered in QENP that Dr. Siefert knows of only 1 female and 2 males left. Maybe this sighting is a good omen?

For the next several hours, we partially forget the conservation challenges and enjoy the natural beauty of the parklands and the animals. We visit 3 groups of lions. Sharon’s group usually consists of 10 animals, both females and cubs. Today we see 3 females, lounging in the grass. The Uganda kob call out alarms while we observe, clearly nervous about the lion presence. The second group contains the three large males: Papa, Omukama, and Rudi. While Rudi keeps out of sight in the brush, the others lay in the sun, bellies bulging from the kill they must have made overnight. Finally, we move into a wetland area and find another group of 8 females and cubs, hiding from the midday sun in the brush, waiting to ambush any stray kob that ventures too close. Lions on the savannah can be difficult to see: Dr. Seifert points out another cub in the tree that even James missed while radiotracking!

Omukama

Omukama

It’s midday and the sun is beating down, heating up the savannah. We must leave this amazing place for a while, but today there is more positive energy. Despite all the challenges, some animals are thriving. Now we must press on to our next engagement…convincing the locals that this mission is worthwhile.

Next installment: village visit and meeting with the Uganda Wildlife Authority!

 

 

 

Zoos Aren’t Just for Kids: Two New Adult Events

by | February 12th, 2015

Looking for an exciting adult-themed event to attend with your special someone? Check out “Birds, Bees & Brunch” at Oakland Zoo. You may recognize the theme from previous years when we hosted the “Animal Amore” events around Valentine’s Day. This year, the program is updated with a new flair. Our first event of the season is scheduled for Sunday, March 2. Here’s what we’ve got planned for you: first, we’ll gather in the courtyard of the Zoo’s Education Center at 10:00am. Enjoy a tasty continental brunch, which includes a mimosa bar! Then, you’ll get the chance to create some fun items for our animals—their favorite food treats will be hidden inside recyclable packaging. You’ll get a kick watching the animals unwrap your creations. Afterwards, you’ll have a choice of two activities. You can chooseharry santi speaking to accompany one of our experienced docents on a special guided tour of the Zoo, where you’ll learn about all sorts of amorous animal behaviors. Or, you can opt for a self-guided scavenger hunt through the Zoo, using clues to locate various animal exhibits on your own. Either way, you’ll have fun learning about the colorful love lives of our exotic animal residents. The fee for “Birds, Bees and Brunch” is $20 for current Oakland Zoo members and $25 for non-members. It’s easy to register online. Just visit the Zoo’s website at www.oaklandzoo.org and download the request form. Then fill it out and FAX or email it back to the Zoo. You can also look forward to other BB&B events throughout the year, so keep an eye on our website calendar.

And, while we’re on the subject of adult fun, there’s another Oakland Zoo event that you may not know about. It’s called “Parents’ Day/Night Off.” Drop the kiddos off at the Zoo while you get away on a date with your loved one, or just enjoy some time for yourself. Your kids will be well cared for and will have a great time. Here’s what we’ve got on the agenda: First, they’ll get served a pizza dinner. Then, we will grab our flashlights and take them on a special walking tour of the Children’s Zoo, where they’ll get the opportunity to see what the animals do after dark, when the zoo is closed. After the tour, your kids will get to participate in an Animal Close-Up where they’ll meet, touch, and learn about one of our Animals Ambassadors, such as a hedgehog, ferret, or lizard. Then, we all play a game or Acacia LF & Rose RTparticipate in an animal-themed craft project. And to top off the evening, we gather in our auditorium to watch a fun, kid-appropriate movie on the big screen.

As the name implies, “Parents’ Day/Night Off” is being offered both days and evenings. For instance, coming up on Valentine’s Day on February 14th, we’re offering this event during the evening, so you can be free for a special night of romance. On March 15th, we’re offering the program during the day to coincide with March Madness, freeing you up to attend that game day party you want to attend. We also have more events planned, if these dates don’t work for you, you can look forward to lots of opportunities later this year.

To participate in Parents’ Day/Night Off, kids need to be aged 4-10 years and be potty-trained. The fee is $45 per child and $30 for each additional sibling. Pre-registration is required. Simply download the Parents Day/Night Off Request Form, complete it and FAX it to 510-729-7324. Or you can email it to our Education Programs Associate. So if you need a little “away time” from the kids, give Oakland Zoo a call, and leave the babysitting to us!