Posts Tagged ‘Uganda’

Oakland Zoo Veterinarian in Africa – Part 3

by | February 23rd, 2015

Weekend Feb 21/22

No rest in research…

Well, a little rest this Saturday morning. We meet James at 7am instead of the usual 6:30am for the next sample collection endeavor. We need samples from prey species (kob and waterbuck) that live very close to human settlements, in order to compare their stress levels with those in more remote sections of the park. James takes us to multiple places near the hostel, and we spend several hours deciding which piles of feces are fresh or old (yes, I really went to vet school in order to do this)!

A few hours into sample collection, James receives another disturbing call from Dr. Siefert regarding a local pastoralist. Early this morning, the man’s dogs alerted him to a predator in the area. Unfortunately, a leopard was attacking and consuming one of the man’s calves. We arrive at the village to inspect the dead calf. The left hind limb has been skinned as if with the sharpest of butcher knives and much of the meat has been removed. James confirms that this is the typical pattern of a leopard kill. The resident is kind, saying that he believes that all animals belong in the park, but is visibly troubled that his expensive asset is now gone.


Providing compensation to the owner of the calf that was killed by the leopard

Providing compensation to the owner of the calf that was killed by the leopard

One mitigation technique UCP uses in situations such as these is partial monetary compensation, in hopes that villagers will not retaliate and kill the predator. From donations given to UCP, we offer this resident 250,000 shillings ($90), which is approximately half of what the calf is worth. The man is grateful for this money, and plans to sell the remaining carcass to another village to help recoup his loss. (As pastoralists, these villagers will not eat meat.)


As we drive away, luck strikes again…on the road in front of us is a distinctive pile – a predator fecal sample. The green glove goes on, and I pick up the little present that the leopard left behind. On the way back to the hostel, James pulls out the antenna in case there are any lions nearby. The luck continues! We find Sharon’s group of females and cubs lying near a thicket, one cub still gnawing on the fresh remains of a kob. We observe for a while, and notice another prized fecal sample. When Sharon walks away, we slowly close in, cubs no more than 5 yards from the truck. James leans out of the door, scoops up the sample as we keep eyes on the lions, and we escape with our smelly reward!Cub with kob


OvenBack in the lab, yesterday’s sample dehydration challenge awaits. Dr. Seifert has procured the hot plate, but problems persist. We spend the afternoon creating a hot plate oven; re-wiring the European plug to a Ugandan plug, buying a pot from the lodge, locating non-melting plastic cups in which to place our sample cups, and finally finding a working outlet in which to plug our creation. With a test sample in place, we break for a late dinner, planning to check on it in a couple of hours. By 9pm, our efforts seem to be paying off. The test sample is 2/3 evaporated with no sign of melting plastic. We place the real samples in the oven and call it a night.


After our usual breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast, Sunday morning we walk to the lab to check the samples. Thankfully, they dried overnight, so we load the last samples, including the precious lion feces, into the oven to dry for the day, weigh the recently dried ones, and make preliminary calculations. Later in the afternoon, we return to check the last samples. Another setback. Our small Eppendorf tubes have melted into the plastic holder, ruining several samples. Feeling a little disheartened, we set up some more experimental tubes and decrease the oven’s heat. Hopefully tomorrow will be more successful. Thus are the trials of science and conservation.




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.

The Loss of a Lion

by | January 13th, 2014

Oakland Zoo is proud of and inspired by the work we do with conservation partners dealing with human-wildlife conflict. We are thrilled that our own volunteers have stepped up with such passion to engage in solutions with these partners. Volunteer Carol Moen Wing shares her experiences with one of our current Quarters for Conservation partners, the Uganda Carnivore Program, which helps conserve African lions.

by Carol Moen Wing, Oakland Zoo  and Uganda Carnivore Program Volunteer

                    The news came via e-mail, from half a world away: Fiona and her family were dead.  I felt a deep sense of sadness as I read Dr. Siefert’s message — “Fiona’s group is no more.  We found, after many days and a few nights, her and her cubs’ carcass; most likely poisoned…”  Just a few months earlier, I had been sitting on the roof of the Uganda Carnivore Program’s research vehicle with Dr. Siefert’s assistant James, watching the lioness Fiona and her two cubs as they rested high in the spiny limbs of a euphorbia tree in Queen Elizabeth National Park.  The cubs, Haraka and her brother Saba, had climbed quite a bit higher than their mom and were peering through the thick green branches at us, curiosity evident in the prick of their ears and the flick of their little tails.  Fiona-cub-Haraka


From this close vantage point, I could see the soft sheen of their fur and smell the musky warm scent of the big cats.  Finally caution got the best of them and they climbed even higher and deeper into the shelter of the tree, while their mother continued to snooze on a big branch below, hardly bothering to open her one good eye and acknowledge our presence.  Reading the news from Uganda now, it was hard to imagine that they were all gone. Fiona+cubs

And yet, I was not surprised.  Late last summer Fiona had moved her family into one of the most dangerous regions of the national park, where wildlife frequently come into conflict with local people.  This is where we had tracked them, in the Crater region not far from several large villages.  Tough old Fiona was a bit of a legend: she survived the loss of an eye in 2001 while hunting a buffalo, and still managed to be a successful hunter and excellent mother to many offspring throughout the years.  At one point she’d even moved her small cubs into the shelter of an abandoned building, a crumbling structure with decorations around the missing roofline that made it look like a small palace — Dr. Siefert had pointed it out to us on our drive.  For many years she had lived in the Mweya Peninsula area of the park, and had only moved into the Crater region because of increasing pressure to find territory unclaimed by younger lions.  In other words, she was just being a good mom, looking for a safe place to raise her cubs.  Could she have known that another lion pride had been poisoned by villagers in this same area not long ago?


This is one of the most difficult challenges in wildlife conservation: human-wildlife conflict.  Animals and people are competing for limited resources, for land and food and water, and too often it is the large predator species such as lions, leopards and spotted hyenas that end up in the worst conflict situations with a rapidly-growing human population.  Queen Elizabeth National Park is not unique in this sense, but it does have an even greater challenge than other parts of Africa because human settlements are located both around the borders and within the park itself.  There are 11 enclave villages with a total population of 50,000 people living inside the park, and many more in towns and villages just beyond its unfenced boundaries.  The depletion of prey species such as antelope (due to habitat loss and poaching) motivates wild predators to seek an easier meal such as a goat or cow.  To make things worse, people unwittingly encourage the predation of their livestock by illegally grazing their animals on park land and building flimsy, easily accessible corrals for their animals to sleep in at night.  Little wonder that a lion like Fiona would kill an easy target like a cow to feed her family.


Most local people living in and around the park do not see lions and other predators as beautiful creatures worth saving — rather, these animals are viewed as direct threats to the security and livelihood of human families.  In response to livestock predation, people will frequently retaliate by poisoning animal carcasses and leaving them out for the lions, hyenas and leopards to consume (not to mention other unlucky passersby such as vultures).  For cattle-keepers, a good lion is a dead lion.  On a basic level we all understand it: people want to protect their families, their livelihood and food security, particularly in a place as impoverished as Uganda.  “Not in my backyard,” as they say (even here in California).  But we also know that an ecosystem will suffer and eventually collapse without its predator and scavenger species.


The loss of individual lions like Fiona, Haraka and Saba may not seem like much in the big scheme of things, but considering the current conservation status of their species every loss is significant; fewer than 30,000 lions remain in all of Africa, and the lion population has declined by 30% over the last 20 years.  African lions are now officially classified as “vulnerable, with a decreasing population trend.”  In Queen Elizabeth National Park the statistics are even more grim, with fewer than 150 lions present.  Leopards are threatened as well, and spotted hyenas have suffered the greatest population loss of all the large predators in the region.


The Uganda Carnivore Program, one of the Oakland Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation partners, has been working hard to find solutions to these problems and mitigate human-wildlife conflict through community outreach and education, as well as using radio collars to monitor predators’ movements into conflict hot spots.  Dr. Ludwig Siefert and his Senior Research Assistant, James Kalyewa, work tirelessly to protect lions, leopards and hyenas by tracking and collecting data on the predator populations, as well as working with local people to find solutions that will protect their communities and their valuable livestock from predation.  The UCP’s efforts have had a positive impact in other areas in and around the national park.  For example, in the past lions had frequently been poisoned near the village of Hamukungu.  The UCP has been working with the village leaders for the past year to design safer, predator-proof livestock corrals, including solar lighting to scare away potential predators at night, and to educate people about the importance of predator species in their environment.  Since this partnership began, no lions have been poisoned in Hamukungu, even though there have been instances of livestock predation.  And in the village of Muhokya, where leopards have been preying on goats, the UCP has worked with the local community to establish a conservation education center and a cultural- and conservation-based tourism initiative called Leopard Village, in thanks for the community’s willingness to learn to live with wildlife and protect it rather than destroy it.  It is significant that Fiona was poisoned in an area that the UCP is not currently working with the community, due to limited funding and manpower… and that other lions are likely to move into this area now that she is gone.


The loss of Fiona and her last two cubs is discouraging to all of us who care about African wildlife, but we must keep working toward solutions.  Conservation is not just something that happens somewhere far away, someone else’s problem, particularly when we consider that some parts of the world have more resources and ability to help wildlife than others.  Even if you never met Fiona and her cubs, the Earth is an increasingly small backyard and the loss of a species has an effect on us all, and on future generations.  Conservation is personal.  As for Fiona, despite her tragic end she had a good life for a wild lion, surviving 15 years in a dangerous environment and successfully raising many other cubs to adulthood.  We can mourn her loss, but we must also look to the predator populations of Queen Elizabeth National Park as a whole — lions, leopards and spotted hyenas — and continue striving to find the best possible solutions for the challenges of human-wildlife conflict.


Please join us to learn more and support the Uganda Carnivore Program on Wednesday January 15, 2014 at Oakland Zoo’s Conservation Speaker Series Saving the Savannah event.

Zoo Visitors Save Wildlife!

by | January 11th, 2013

On a hot August day in 2011, visitors to the Oakland Zoo became much more than visitors, they became wildlife heroes!  Each time a visitor entered the zoo, a twenty-five cent conservation donation was contributed in support of several Oakland Zoo conservation projects. With thousands of visitors each year, these quarters have added up to a significant help for animals.  Our slogan for Quarters for Conservation project is “Saving Wildlife with Each Visit” and it has proven true.

Kids swirl their tokens to save wildlife

Guests even determined where the funding went. Each visitor was able to vote for their favorite project out of our featured three with their token they received at the gate and their spare change.

Zoo visitors love Quarters for Conservation for many reasons: the opportunity to teach children about voting, the chance to learn about wildlife conservation, the feeling of pride in their visit, and their ability to easily help the species they have grown to love. Zoo staff also experienced an increase in pride in their job, and the animals in the wild benefited most of all. Here are the results:

From August 2011- September 2012, Quarters for Conservation raised $102,499!

50% of Quarters for Conservation went to our three featured projects and was divided by visitor votes.

There were 222,722 votes total.

38% went to Amboseli Fund for Elephants for total of $19,475

Amboseli Trust for Elephants funds vital research in Kenya

36% went to The Budongo Snare Removal Project for a total of $18,450

The Budongo Snare Removal project protects chimpanzees from hunters, like this chimp named “Oakland”.

26% went to Ventana Wildlife Society’s Condor Recovery Project  for a total of $13,325


Condors now soar above Big Sur thanks to the work of the Ventana Wildlife Society.

25 % of Quarters for Conservation went to various Oakland Zoo Conservation Field Partners, decided by the Conservation Committee:


EWASO Lion Project                                     $2000

Giraffe Conservation Foundation            $5000

Project Golden Frog                                      $1500

Animals Asia                                                      $1500

Hornbill Nest Project                                      $1500

Lubee Bat Conservancy                                  $5000

Africa Matters                                                     $1500

Bay Area Puma Project                                   $2500

Bornean Sunbear

Conservation Centre                                       $2500

ARCAS                                                                   $2500

American Bird Conservancy                         $100

The remaining 25% went to on-site conservation at the zoo, such as our work with condors and western pond turtles.

Here is what zoo visitors had to say about our first year of Quarters for Conservation:

  • I feel good that I am helping wildlife
  • It makes sense that we should all contribute
  • I’m glad I chose this zoo
  • Quarters for Conservation makes the zoo a better place
  • This donation enhances my experience at the zoo
  • I did my good deed for the day!

Here is what some of our conservation field partners had to say:

“The greatest threats condors face in California are ingestion of lead, primarily from spent ammunition, and eggshell thinning caused by past DDT discharges into the marine environment.  The Oakland Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation program is assisting Ventana Wildlife Society with both of these issues and is an excellent example of how a zoo can directly recover endangered animals in the field through partnerships and engaging their visitors.”

Kelly Sorenson, Director – Ventana Wildlife Society

“The unique opportunity that Oakland Zoo has given us is the long term vision of saving chimpanzees by eliminating the threat of hunting. It has been a truly amazing story of a project that simply started as a snare removal campaign but led to the development of wildlife clubs in schools and provision of nanny goats for the ex-hunters associations. We would like to thank Oakland Zoo staff and visitors for believing in our initiatives. Together we should be proud that we piloted a scheme that has yielded dividends beyond our expectations.”

Fred Babweterra of The Budongo Snare Removal Project

“The Amboseli Trust for Elephants just received their Quarters for Conservation donation from the Oakland Zoo and it made us very happy indeed. We were thrilled that the public voted for the money raised to go to elephants, specifically ATE. We will use these funds to help protect and to continue to learn more about the Amboseli elephants. Thank you Oakland Zoo and all the people who care for wildlife.

Cynthia Moss, Founder Amboseli Trust for Elephants

As a community, we have a great power to not only enjoy the zoo and learn from the animals, but to genuinely help their plight in the wild. Quarters for Conservation represents a true shift in the way the Oakland Zoo and our fantastic visitors engage with animals. We celebrate the wildlife hero in us all.

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!

Packing for Africa

by | July 1st, 2011

I am excitedly packing for Africa, the lush fertile countries of Uganda and Rwanda to be specific. I have a headlamp and hiking shoes, camera and sunscreen. In goes malaria pills and bug spray, wildlife guides and a sunhat. It is a true honor to co-lead this Oakland Zoo Conservation Expedition to visit the conservation projects that the Oakland Zoo Conservation Fund supports. We have been planning and learning through monthly meetings and workshops since January, and are now ready to go.


Next, I am packing the important things: Thirteen adult participants, full of adventure, compassion and a genuine reverence for wildlife and conservation, and one Oakland Zoo veterinarian co-leader, Dr. Andrea Goodnight. On the packing list are three laptops, two cameras, children’s books, and hats and t-shirts for our guides and friends. The items will be donated to Pearl Eco-Safaris (, The Kibale Fuel Wood Project ( and the Budongo Snare Removal Project (

A primate net will somehow be hauled on board for the Uganda Conservation Wildlife Education Center so they can ensure a safe capture for their rescued wildlife. Three veterinary medicinal formula books will join us as a gift to the Mountain Gorilla Vet Project (, as well as an immobilization unit for darting gorillas in need of medical care.

Packed in our bags will be letters of appreciation for the Budongo Snare Removal Team. Thank you notes will also be given to the Women’s Community Action Project who creates the gorgeous Kibale Bead jewelry sold at the Oakland Zoo gift shop, and the Virunga Artisans ( artists, whose weavings and carvings are also featured at our gift shop.

To the pastoral community near Queen Elizabeth Park who saved a female leopard from poisoning and assisted lion expert Dr. Ludwig Siefert in the rescue operation, we bring a framed certificate of recognition and appreciation.

Last goes in some stories and songs, and the willingness to share all of ourselves. With full bags, we depart on July 1. We will report back upon return, with much more received than we could ever pack in our bags and offer.

The Oakland Zoo Conservation Expedition is in partnership with Intrepid Travel. Contact for future Conservation Expedition information, such as Borneo in 2012!