Boy, today was jam-packed. Safety in the Oakland Zoo. Pond turtles, Children’s Zoo tour, Mammal taxonomy. My head is spinning.
Keeping Zoo visitors safe and animals calm is the first responsibility of every volunteer and staffer, whether on duty or off. Lost kids, climbing kids, dangerous behavior, possible evacuations …it’s all part of being a Docent. The Zoo needs eyes and ears everywhere.
We role-played and got tips on situations that might occur in the Children’s Zoo. We will all carry radios whenever we are on duty, so we learned how to work them and practiced radio protocol.
Western Pond Turtles—Zoo Research in Progress
Next, Kristin Mealiffe , one of our zookeepers, joined us to describe a project the Zoo is conducting with Sonoma State University to reverse the decline of these turtles in California.
SSU collects eggs, hatches them, and then sends them to the nursery we’ve set up in the Children’s Zoo. Here they can grow in ideal conditions until they are big enough not to be eaten by non-native bullfrogs and bass.
Our baby turtles will be released into a healthy lake in Northern California wearing microchips so we can track their progress. Hopefully, all will grow to their full size (10-12 inches) and bring many more like themselves into the world. So far we’ve released eighty and you can see some neat photos of this here.
This project will benefit not only our State, but Washington and Oregon where they have lost all or most of their Pond turtles to water contamination, the pet trade and non-native predators.
Out to the Zoo for Hard-won Advice
Nobody knows how to be a docent like those who have done it for years. Today we had the benefit of several who took us around the different exhibits and taught us how to talk about them to children.
One of the key features of a good Docent is the ability to answer questions simply, briefly and with a focus. For example, if we are asked about the Panamanian Golden Frogs, which are nearly extinct outside zoos, we can tell them:
- 1) An interesting fact (they are the mascot of an entire country)
- 2) What threatens them (chemicals in their streams is one problem)
- 3) What zoos are doing to help (breeding projects)
- 4) What we can do in our local area (keep our water clean so our frogs don’t go the way of Panama’s).
Using this formula will help me format the tons of information we are getting on every animal. Of course, with older kids and adults who are really interested, we can tell them as much as we know.
Funding a New Zoo isn’t Child’s Play
To appreciate the splendor of our current Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo, during lunch we got a brief slideshow showing how far we’ve come. The new kid’s Zoo opened in 2005 after the old baby zoo was demolished. It took three years and cost nearly $12 million, paid for by citizens who passed a bond measure, charitable foundation grants, and by individual donors like you and me—all for the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of kids who visit every year.
Mammals at Last
Finally we are going to learn about the mammals in the Children’s Zoo and, of course, that starts with taxonomy.
Sarah zoomed through a mind-bending lecture on how mammals are divided up into classes based on their reproductive methods, forms of locomotion and other characteristics. It is very complex, let me just say that, but some fascinating facts emerged:
20% of all mammals are bats!
Bats are the only mammals that fly. And they really do fly. Even though they have to take off by letting go and dropping, they can reverse course and fly upstream, unlike gliding animals such as Flying Squirrels. Their wings are membranes stretched between their finger bones like the webbing in duck feet. Our bats, which are Fruit Bats, don’t use echolation (sounds to detect prey) because their food doesn’t move.
Some mammals lay eggs but most give live birth to young which are more independent (a goat) or totally helpless (a human or kangaroo baby). There are only 3 egg-laying mammals including the duckbilled platypus.
The largest class of mammals, Carnivoras, are not all true carnivores. Some, like bears, eat both meat and plants—they are called omnivores. Some, like pandas, are herbivores and eat only plants, and some, such as tigers and lions—who are true carnivores—eat only meat and get plants as a side dish if they are in the dinner animal’s stomach.
Locomotion is Destiny
Humans and kangaroos walk on their full feet by rolling their foot from heel to the toe. This makes them the slowest animals, but they have the best balance. Kangaroos have to hop with both feet to move around so they really need that extra edge. Their tails help, too.
Dogs and Cats walk on their toes, so they are faster than humans because less paw contacts the ground. Don’t try to outrun a cheetah.
Goats, horses and hippos wall on their toenails. Their hooves are not their toes, which are bones up inside. They walk like a ballerina en pointe. This can make them very fast if they are like one-toed horses and two-toed gazelles, or very slow if they are four-toed hippos.
Goats and Bighorn Sheep can skitter across rocks because they either have hair between the toes of their cloven hooves, or a spongey place there. The two toes help grip the rocks like fingers. There’s a great photo of this here.
One good thing about the homework is that it raises so many questions I can’t stop researching once I get it done. Shocking to the core is my discovery that whales and dolphins are descended from the earliest hoofed animals and their nearest living relative is the hippo!
Believe me, this is just a tiny sampler of what we learned today. On Wednesday we’ll learn about the mammals in our Children’s Zoo and next Saturday meet them in person.
Spoiler Alert: Day 3 Quiz Answer. Stop reading if you haven’t been to that blog yet.
Snakes can open their mouths so wide because of the quadrate bones at the back of their jaws and their split mandibles which have ligaments that stretch to allow a pig-sized entrée to enter a python’s mouth.
That’s all for this week. See you Wednesday,