Posts Tagged ‘teen programs’

Fueling the Future

by | September 16th, 2011

What do trees and chimps have in common? Well, not very much. One is a plant, the other is an animal, and they don’t look very much alike. But, trees and chimps truly rely on each other- a symbiotic relationship that makes one dependent on the other. Chimps need trees for food and shelter, and in turn, the chimps eat fruit from the trees and pollinate the seeds throughout the rest of the forest.

People and chimps have at least one thing in common- they both need to eat! In the Kibale Forest region of Uganda, where both chimps and people live, this can cause big problems. While the chimps can dine on leaves and fruit in the raw, people need to cook their food, and their preferred fuel for their fires is wood- wood that comes from trees where the chimps live and eat. More people means more food, which means fewer trees and fewer chimps. In Kibale, some people started asking if this trade-off was really necessary- if we could have food for people and a home for chimps.

The result has been a fabulous program called the Kibale Fuel Wood Project. Supported by the Oakland Zoo since 2006, this innovative program has developed a few strategies for helping people learn about their natural resource while leaving trees behind for the chimps. This has included planting fast growing native trees for firewood use, a community science center where people can visit, and movie nights in local villages. But my favorite program this outfit runs is one of its newest- fuel briquettes made from trash!

On our recent teen trip to Uganda, 16 of our Oakland Zoo teen volunteers got the opportunity to learn first hand how these round little briquettes get made! First, we start with raw materials- organic trash donated by the villagers. This can include peanut shells, newspaper, wood chips and other natural materials. By donating this unneeded trash, the villagers get finished fuel bricks in return- while also getting rid of their waste in a helpful way.







Next, the materials need to be ground up and prepped. This involves grinding it up using a big mortar and pestle like contraption- and let me tell you, it takes some practice!







The ground shells and newspaper then get soaked in water and mixed together in a big bowl, making a chunky, soupy mixture. This is then put into the specially made mold.







Once the mix is ready, the water needs to be squeezed out. To do this, you place the mold in a big wooden press. Pushing the handle down puts pressure on the mold, and the excess water quickly runs out the bottom into the bowl below.







Now, all you have to do is pull the mold out and pop out your finished round briquettes! After drying in the sun, canola seeds will be added so that the oils will make the bricks burn hotter, making them more efficient.







The best part of the day- when we all got to enjoy a delicious lunch cooked for us over a fire of fuel briquettes! Tasty, delicious…and eco-friendly! Thanks to all at the Kibale Fuel Wood Project, especially project coordinator Margaret Kemigisa. We had a great time!

Happy Red Panda Day

by | November 19th, 2010

The holidays are likely on your mind right now, but did you know that a major holiday was just celebrated this past weekend? Just after Halloween and before Thanksgiving falls International Red Panda Day, which the Oakland Zoo celebrated in style with the help of our good friends from the Red Panda Network.

What’s a red panda, you ask? These small, raccoon-like mammals live in the forests surrounding the Himalayas, in China, India and Nepal, and are also known as the “firefox”. They subsist almost entirely on bamboo, eating up to 200,000 bamboo leaves in one day! Besides being charismatic and biologically unique, the red panda can also lay claim to being the original panda. The word “panda” is derived from the Nepalese word “poonya”, which means “eater of bamboo” and refers to the red panda. When scientists discovered the larger, black and white, bamboo-eating animal in the mountains of China, they assumed the two animals to be related, and dubbed the now more famous one the Giant Panda. Now, however, we know that red pandas and giant pandas aren’t closely related at all. In fact, though red pandas share similarities with raccoons, weasels and bears, they have been classified in their own family, Ailuridae, biologically distinct and unique from other species.

TWG Hannah Horowitz shows her red panda spirit!

The actual number of red pandas in the wild is unknown. Like many animals, they face threats from habitat loss and climate change which damages the fragile Himalayan ecosystem. Though their range is geographically large, in practice the pandas are restricted to small patches of forests which support the bamboo plants they so rely on. And yet, while their larger namesake has become a symbol for conservation worldwide, few people have even heard of a red panda, let alone know about the challenges they face. The Red Panda Network, which is dedicated to preserving the species through education, research and conservation in Nepal, decided to raise awareness by holding the 1st annual International Red Panda Day on November 13, with the help of zoos, schools and clubs across the country. When they asked if we’d be willing to join in to teach people about this amazing animal, we readily agreed!

And so, this past Saturday, November 13, we celebrated this special species. The Teen Wild Guides operated tables with red panda facts and activities. Visitors spent the day coloring red panda masks, making red panda origami, and having their faces painted. All activities were free, with donations accepted. When all was said and done, we raised $215 to be donated to the Red Panda Network, which they’ll use to further their excellent conservation work with local people in Nepal.

A young visitor shows off his red panda mask.

An event like Red Panda Day is a great chance to reflect on the little things we can all do to benefit conservation. Here at the zoo, our conservation programs run the gamut from fundraising to composting, but nothing is more important than education. Just by learning about a new animal or habitat, we have taken the first step to making a difference for them. As the great Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum said; “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.” And so, to everyone who came out to the zoo on Red Panda day, colored a mask, and maybe dropped a dollar or two in our donation box, our sincere thanks for doing your part, and for helping us support a hardworking organization. Now we all know which panda truly reigns supreme!

Preparing for the Trip of a Lifetime

by | June 9th, 2010

Where did you go on vacation when you were a teen? To visit relatives? Sleep away camp? For the past 10 years, the Oakland Zoo has broken new ground with our teen travel program. Each summer, teen volunteers sign up to be part of one of our epic adventures, to destinations like Peru, Uganda and Thailand, where they have the opportunity to meet conservation professionals working in their home countries to preserve some of our most endangered species. For most, it is the first time away from home, out of the country, truly out of their element. Which begs the question- just how do you prepare yourself for the adventure of a lifetime? For our intrepid group of teens traveling to Guatemala this summer, the process has been a long time in the making.

Entrance to the ARCAS facility in Peten. Photo courtesy of ARCAS.

In the Petén region of Guatemala, in the heart of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, lie the grand Mayan city of Tikal, Lake Petén Itza, and the ARCAS animal rehab facility. Begun in 1989 by a group of Guatemalan citizens, ARCAS aims to preserve Guatemala’s natural heritage through education, rehabilitation, and research. The Petén rescue center has grown to be one of the largest facilities of its kind, housing and re-releasing species from spider monkeys to parrots to coatimundis. Since then, they have also added a sea turtle hatchery on the Pacific Coast, and education programs in Guatemala City. A longtime partner of the Oakland Zoo, ARCAS agreed to let this summer’s teen trip visit their facilities, giving teens the chance to participate first-hand in the conservation work they do. The group will do everything from cleaning cages, preparing diets, looking for nesting leatherback turtles, restoring trails, and whatever else comes up- all alongside the wonderful local staff at ARCAS.

Such an opportunity is one that most people will never get to experience in their lifetime, and our teens know it! Choosing to go on a trip with the Zoo requires a big commitment to ensure teens are educated and aware representatives of the Oakland Zoo. And so, since December, they’ve been preparing furiously to get ready. They’ve attended monthly meetings, gone on field trips, written reports on animal and plant species native to Guatemala, and have been working with the staff of KQED’s QUEST to learn how to use cameras and software to create videos of their journey.

Jennifer Ginsburg, Kenny Cavey, and Kristin Kerbavaz create an all-natural lemur treat.

Most recently, we spent a day working on enrichment. If you’ve been to the Zoo, or read back through these blogs, you know how important enrichment is for the animals in our care. In 2003, a different group of teens went to ARCAS, where they saw basic enclosures with limited enrichment for the animals. Their project for the week was to create enrichment, along with a book of ideas to use for the future. However, when our vet tech Kody Hilton made a return visit in 2009, she discovered that they weren’t using it. The reason? At the Oakland Zoo, we rely on a variety of recycled and re-used items for enrichment. At ARCAS, where the animals are being prepared for a life back in the wild, they don’t want their patients to associate human trash with food.

The lemurs enjoy a tree made by the teens.

A quandary? Maybe not! On May 22, this year’s group worked in the lemur exhibit before heading out around the Zoo to gather a variety of natural items, with the goal of creating some all-natural lemur enrichment. They came back with husks, leaves, flowers, sticks, pinecones and bark. Working in groups, they created enrichment items for the lemurs which we supplemented with their afternoon diet. When they were finished, we put the items in the exhibit and watched to see what would happen. The result? A success! The teens and all the visitors in the Zoo were able to see the lemurs enjoying their new enrichment made from all natural materials. We now hope to replicate the project in 6 weeks when we arrive at ARCAS.

As we now move into the last phase of preparation and start packing, renewing our passports and getting those all-important shots, it’s impossible to know just what our journey has in store for us. One thing is certain though; whatever comes our way, we’ll be prepared.

There’s A Wildlife Career For YOU!

by | March 19th, 2010

“I know I want to work with animals, but I’m not sure if I want to be a zookeeper, or a vet.”

As the Teen Programs Coordinator here at the zoo, this is a sentence I hear frequently from teens looking to get involved at the zoo. Zookeeper or vet, vet or zookeeper; teens seem only to be aware of these two options when it comes to having a career in the animal world. It’s a phenomenon I have personal experience with; as a teen growing up with a love of animals, I knew that being a vet wasn’t for me…so I assumed I would be a zookeeper. I knew that being a zookeeper might not afford opportunities to speak with the public or give presentations- things I really enjoyed as a volunteer- but I thought it was the only viable option out there for a teen wanting to work with wildlife.

Hannah Horowitz examines a skull during a workshop at Wildlife Careers Day.

Now, as a staff member in the Conservation and Education Department, I know that I was mistaken. I now work alongside educators, marketers, grant writers and of course, many hardworking vets and zookeepers (more properly called “animal keepers” these days). I also have the opportunity to meet a variety of people in conservation and wildlife fields, who represent an amazing array of just what you can do in terms of animal-friendly careers.  It made me think: if only teens could see this diversity, their minds might be opened to all of the possibilities in wildlife careers. And so, as someone once afflicted with Vet/Zookeeper Limitation Syndrome, I hatched a plan: to have an entire wildlife-related career day for teens, with no zookeepers and no vets.

Katie Lannon of Ventana Wildlife Society speaks to students about the condor breeding and release program.

Hence, Wildlife Careers Day was born! On March 13, 2010, we hosted our 3rd annual Wildlife Careers Day, with over 50 attendees. Teens went to workshops hosted by the Animals Asia Foundation, Red Panda Network, the East Bay Regional Parks District, Ventana Wildlife Society, and the zoo’s own Conservation and Education Department. They learned about jobs as field biologists, paleontologists, naturalists, and conservationists. Perhaps most impressive, they learned about the paths that each speaker took to arrive in their current positions. Brian Williams of the Red Panda Network began as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, and now runs the first and only NGO working to protect this unique species; James Frank of the EBRPD passed out copies of the curriculum vitae he used to get his job as a naturalist. In the end, teens left with an important message: don’t limit yourself! There are so many careers in this ever-expanding field that, as Williams said himself, “anything you think you might want to do as a job, you can do.” Indeed, now more than ever, it is so important that young people choose to pursue an environmentally sound career. In my position, I know that I make a difference for wildlife around the world; seeing 50 pairs of eyes focusing on the same goal makes me profoundly hopeful for the future.

Still think you might like to be a zookeeper or vet? Don’t worry- these are still important and rewarding jobs! We’ll host another career event all about these two professions in October.