Posts Tagged ‘Volunteering’

Making it Green: Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs

by | July 17th, 2015

You might not know this but Oakland Zoo deals with a lot more than just animals. Surrounding the Zoo, like a giant green oasis, lies the expansive Knowland Park. And running through the park you’ll find crew with bagsthe meandering Arroyo Viejo Creek, making its way from the East Bay hills to San Leandro Bay. But this creek isn’t some man-made exhibit with fake foliage. It’s a naturally occurring bio zone, complete with its own plant life, animal life and geological features. In other words, it’s home to a lot of living things. And like far too many natural ecosystems, Arroyo Viejo Creek faces ongoing threats from the human world. So it needs a little help. That’s where Oakland Zoo comes in.

For several years now the Zoo has facilitated restoration work on the creek in an effort to return it to its natural, healthy state. This work involves cleaning up accumulated trash, removing invasive plants (such as French Broom, thistle, poison hemlock and English ivy) and planting weed pullersnative species, such as coastal live oak. Most of this work is done by a group known as the Creek Crew, a team of up to fifty zoo-led volunteers that get together one Saturday each month. Armed with shovels, rakes and work gloves, the Creek Crew involves people of all ages, from kids to seniors. And they have a great time too. Overseeing these efforts is Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs Manager, Olivia Lott.

A recent arrival at the Zoo, Olivia is also organizing an ambitious plan to create a series of themed demonstration gardens to use in our Education Creek and Garden programs. These gardens will illustrate a variety of biomes and will be used to educate the public about the role of various plant species. Utilizing our existing planter space in the Education Center courtyard, Olivia hopes to create eight different plots, including an edible garden, a medicinal garden, a xeriscaped garden for sun loving plants, a habitat and shelter garden to attract local wildlife, one for shade plants (filled with ferns native to our northern California woodlands) and other gardens for aquatic plants, carnivorous plants and for attracting butterflies and other pollinators. There’s even a group on grassgarden consisting of plants that grow without the need for soil that will be grown vertically along one wall of our Education facility!

Olivia plans to involve the public in creating the space for these gardens. Projects like building planter boxes, vertical garden frames and small fences, plus soil preparation and even some planting can all be fun educational projects for the dedicated groups and individuals who volunteer their time here at the Zoo each month. Education Department staff will maintain the gardens once they are established.

Another conservation project Olivia is helping to launch involves sharing a bit of beautiful Knowland Park with the rest of the East Bay. Starting this September, several groups including Creek and Garden classes, Creek Crew volunteers and Zoo staff will begin collecting acorns that have fallen from the Coast purple and chipsLive Oak trees living in the upper park. The acorns will be brought down to the Education Center to be prepped and planted in containers where they will grow for the next 24 months or so. Once the acorns have become small oak saplings, they will be given to East Bay residents who are interested in helping to re-populate their neighborhoods and yards with these magnificent native trees that once gave Oakland its name. Instructions for caring for the saplings as well as small markers that tell about the trees and where they came from will be provided with each tree. This project grew out of the Zoo’s desire to not only replace the few oak trees that will be removed during CA Trail construction, but to also “spread some of the wealth” of Knowland Park throughout East Bay neighborhoods.

 

If you’re interested in joining the Creek Crew or know someone who is, contact Oakland Zoo at olott@oaklandzoo.org or 510-632-9525 x 233 and get involved with the next work day at Arroyo Viejo Creek. If you’re interested in helping with the gardens, contact Chantal at cburnett@oaklandzoo.org. Either way, you’ll have a great time working with nature and meeting new friends. And it’s a good feeling knowing that you too can make a difference!

 

From Oakland to Africa – Diary of a ZooKeeper: Coming Back Home

by | February 11th, 2015

Just when I’ve started to feel I’ve found my place here at Lola ya Bonobo, it is already time to depart. I truly miss my pets and the animals I care for at Oakland Zoo, but I really wish I had a little more time here. Particularly since I don’t really speak any French, it was hard to get to know people initially. However, after a week or two, we all became comfortable enough to fill in language barriers with hand gestures. Plus, I’ve picked up a little more French during my stay. It’s more than enough to build friendships. I’ve also become more comfortable to jump in and offer help when I can.

Here I am giving medical treatment for worm prevention.

Here I am giving medical treatment for worm prevention.

On grounds, there is a never-ending supply of bamboo, I can’t believe how big it can get! The diameter of the bigger stalks is too large for me to reach both of my hands around and have them touch. In the past at Oakland Zoo, I’ve cut bamboo and drilled holes into it to hide peanut butter and jam for the sun bears and siamangs. The cost of these food items is very expensive in DRC, it is not realistic for me to suggest that. However, the bonobos do receive a daily supply of peanuts. I suggested making peanut puzzle feeders with sections of bamboo. Raphael (veterinarian) and Emile (keeper) help me to do this.

Feeding bananas to Group 2 bonobos.

Feeding bananas to Group 2 bonobos.

While the sanctuary does have a drill on hand, there is no saw. Emile takes a machete to cut the bamboo sections. I want to offer to do it, so Emile can get back to his work and not have to baby-sit me. Raphael asks him in French if I can do the chopping. Emile’s translated reply is, “Sure, if you want to cut yourself, no problem.” He’s teasing…a little bit. I think. It’s also definitely a cultural issue, women don’t use tools like machetes here. I want to protest, but I am pretty accident-prone anyways. I’m just going to let this one go.

When we have seven bamboo sections of different sizes, Emile leaves and says it is okay for me to drill the holes. There are several other keepers in the area and I am uncomfortably aware they are all watching me drill, which isn’t easy. The dull bit isn’t big enough to make a good size hole for the peanuts, so I have to drill several times for one hole on the curved surface of the bamboo. Sometimes the power button on this ancient device gets stuck and the drill keeps going at full blast, all on its own. When I finish and Raphael and I are inspecting the holes, Nsimba, one of the women who prepares the bonobo diets here, says, “Strong!” and points to me, flexing her arms. I thank her and try to be cool about it, but I’m secretly giddy, hoping I’ve inspired female empowerment. If only a little bit.

Untitled3Raphael and I take the bamboo to the juvenile nursery, after filling them with a lot of peanuts. The reaction varies quite a bit. Some of the juveniles immediately use the bamboo to display or as a ladder to climb. A few immediately find something better to do, but four are all about them. It’s pretty amusing to watch when they accidentally get several peanuts to fall out, as you can see them realize what it’s all about. Singi spends a good 25 minutes with his (an eternity for a juvenile bonobo mind). This young male is referred to by the Mamas as being “cray cray,” some American slang they’ve picked up. Before the adult female, Kisantu (mentioned in an earlier blog), was put into the juvenile enclosure to recover from illness, it was safe to go in with the juveniles. Well, sort of. These bonobos are around 4-6 years old and are not only getting really strong, but also *realizing* how strong they are. They’re relentless and Singi is the roughest. I only went into the juvenile enclosure once before Kisantu was moved there- Singi gave me quite the run for my money. Anyone who thinks it is a good idea to have an ape as a pet should have to spend one hour with Singi. They’d opt for a goldfish pretty quickly.

Singi, figuring out the objective of his puzzle feeder.

Singi, figuring out the objective of his puzzle feeder.

Now, to see Singi thoughtfully turning over the bamboo, poking at the hole where he knows the peanuts could come out, he is a different animal. After the first minute or so, in proper bonobo fashion, he has sex with it. After that, his entire focus is on turning it over and over, at different angles, to get the peanuts.

My last full day at the sanctuary is a Sunday, which I’m happy about because it is bread and butter day. During a time when the sanctuary was getting charged astronomical prices for produce (see previous blog post that talks about the seed distribution program), they needed a way to make sure the bonobos were getting enough calories. The bonobos were supplemented with bread rolls and butter. By butter, I mean a very soft margarine that comes in bulk tubs and is produced in Kinshasa. The bonobos *love* it. Now that the sanctuary is getting a better deal on produce, they still offer the bread and butter one time a week as a special treat. Similar techniques are used in zoos as well. For example, at Oakland Zoo the sun bears get a treat mix sprinkled throughout their exhibit that contains peanuts, dried fruit, plain popcorn and cereal. This encourages foraging behavior and makes it worthwhile for the bears to put forth the effort to seek it. Also, who doesn’t like getting “fun food” every once in a while?

Bread and butter day!

Bread and butter day!

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A Group 1 bonobo hits the jackpot on the bread treat.

Here at the sanctuary, the bonobos definitely go a little nuts on bread and butter day. When the media talks about bonobos (which is pretty rare), they love to refer to them as the “Make love, not war ape.” This is very much an oversimplification based on bonobos using sex to diffuse social tensions, but no one would use that phrase on bread and butter day. While there still are a few bonobos having sex and no serious violent aggression breaks out, it is mostly every bonobo for his or herself. The most dominant bonobos can be seen carrying handfuls of the torn-up rolls. The keepers try their best to make sure there is enough for everyone and spread it out as far as they are able, but there is still a lot of displaying and loud vocalizations. The human equivalent would be someone sprinkling a large amount of money over a busy city street.

I can’t put into words how grateful I am for my short time here. The Democratic Republic of Congo isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of political issues, cultural tensions and frequent violent outbursts in the country to protest the government. The U.S. government travel warnings’ website continues to advise Americans not to come here. You also have to worry about illness, like the multiple strains of malaria found here. One form, cerebral malaria, attacks the brain and kills you in days if not caught and treated properly. Even smaller things, like sitting on the porch at evening to eat dinner means you have to be okay with bugs the length of your hand possibly flying blindly right at you and bouncing off your head. However, I feel I’ve only become a better person for being exposed to a style of living very different from the country I grew-up in. Also, at least for me, the benefits of being here far outweigh the costs or risks.

Untitled11The conservation status of the bonobo is bleak. Their remaining range is only one section of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated there are 5,000 left, but no one can say for sure as it is too dangerous to complete a wildlife census in parts of their range. While hunting or keeping a bonobo comes with a severe punishment (10 years in prison and/or an $8,500 fine), it’s a big country with a lot of other issues going on to deal with. Bonobos continue to be actively hunted and slaughtered for meat, witchcraft practices and to capture young infants to sell on the black market. Being the only sanctuary available for orphaned bonobos to go to, Lola ya Bonobo is truly a place worthy of recognition and support. If you would like to learn more about the sanctuary or find out how you can help, please visit: www.friendsofbonobos.org.

A Creek Runs Through It

by | August 12th, 2014

The natural occurrence of clean water used to be commonplace throughout the world. But these days, especially within urban settings, water needs all the help it can get. Part of that help involves taking care of the waterways that wind their way through our neighborhoods. Here at Oakland Zoo, our group of dedicated teen volunteers, the Teen Wild Guides (or TWGs), have been doing just that, helping the local creek return to its natural, healthy state. Along with a wide array of other volunteers, the TWGs have been joining the ongoing effort to restore habitat along Oakland’s Arroyo Viejo Creek, which runs through Knowland Park on its way to San Leandro Bay. These volunteers, who range in age from 10 to 100 years old, include high school groups, families, church groups, scout groups as well as alumni and corporate groups.photo (22)

During several weekends last year, the TWGs assisted the Zoo’s Education Department and Horticulture staff in leading Arroyo Viejo Creek volunteers and various community groups with the following projects: planting native species including Stipa grass plugs; clearing dirt debris and invasive plants from an adjacent new lawn area; clearing weeds from around new oak saplings and mulching around nearby trees; and creating a wooden border between a new parking area and the habitat restoration site to prevent native grasses from being damaged by zoo guests.

photo (14)Funding for the tools and materials needed for this restoration work has been provided by a generous $4900 grant from the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District’s Clean Water Program and Community Stewardship Grant Program. But the TWGs’ contributions to the creek’s welfare have gone beyond performing physical labor. These teens understand how important clean water is to the environment and humans, and that riparian habitats are critical for wildlife and ecosystem functions.

With this in mind, they’ve also assisted with sharing conservation information with our volunteers on a variety of pertinent topics, including:DSC02973

  • What are Watersheds?
  • Why watersheds are so important
  • Invasive Plant Species
  • Native Plant Species
  • Edible plants that are found alongside the creek
  • Riparian habitats
  • Animals that inhabit riparian habitats at the creek

Kiwanis Group with Hort 4613 037

 

Through their involvement with the county’s Clean Water Program, the TWGs have learned how to restore native vegetation on creek banks and wetland transition zones, and how this work has contributed to the long-term protection and biological health of streams, aquifers, and terrestrial resources of our watersheds in the North Bay. As part of this grant, the TWGs have also worked with teen volunteers at Fruitvale’s Peralta Hacienda Park, restoring native gardens and working on the restoration of Peralta Creek. The Oakland Zoo TWGs are always looking for new members. If you know an enthusiastic teen who’s interested in animals and community service, give the Zoo a call at 510-632-9525 ext 201. It could be the opportunity they’ve been waiting for—the chance to help make a difference in the natural world!

Zoo Docents: Developing the next generation of inspiration

by | October 11th, 2013
Docent with Animal Skull

Docent with Animal Skull

These days, forty years is a long time for something to last—unless it’s made out of cast iron or granite. But that’s almost how long we’ve had our docent program here at Oakland Zoo. I was still in high school back in 1974 when the first docents headed out into the Zoo, ready to greet the public. Since then, the Zoo has grown tremendously and we’ve seen more than 400 enthusiastic men and women join our team of volunteer educators over the years. Right now, we’ve got almost 90 on board. And I can’t imagine this place running without them.

Inspiring a Young Zoo Visitor

Inspiring a Young Zoo Visitor

But what exactly does a docent do, you might ask. Docents, in the same way that ambassadors represent foreign nations, are the vital link between the public and various educational and scientific institutions. Often operating with limited funding, many of these organizations couldn’t function properly without a team of these volunteers. You see them at museums, science centers, historical sites and, of course, zoos. They handle a variety of tasks, including leading tours, answering questions, and assisting people in need of help. But some of their contributions are a bit more ethereal. They inspire. They enlighten. They connect people with things they may not have been exposed to before. You might say docents help create the next generation of supporters and in some cases, future employees.

So what does it take to be a part of such a team? How do you become a docent here at Oakland Zoo? If you’re outgoing, enjoy working with the public and have a love of animals, you might be just what Oakland Zoo is looking for. But like anything else worth doing, it takes commitment and a bit of work.

Docent Training Class

Docent Training Class

It all starts with the application process, which can be initiated through Oakland Zoo’s website. Once your application has been accepted and a background check is complete, you attend an orientation before you begin the training. Our comprehensive 15-week docent training class provides prospective docents with a solid background that includes an overview of the Zoo’s animal collection, conservation efforts, zoology and taxonomy, customer service and interpretive training. The training is a collaborative effort between education department staff, zookeepers and veteran docents. In those 15 weeks, you’ll get classroom instruction, special lectures, as well as homework assignments, quizzes, and presentations. There’s even a mentoring program to provide one-on-one assistance.

 

Once you’ve passed the final exam and graduated, you’ll officially be an Oakland Zoo docent. After that, you need to fulfill a minimum requirement of 70 public hours of service per year as well as earning 4 credits of continuing education by attending lectures, classes, etc. But since our docents find the work so rewarding, most of them enjoy contributing even more time to the Zoo.

Week Fourteen and Going Green

by | April 16th, 2013

This was an exciting and packed week. I started the week off by shadowing more of the Education Department; this time for ZooSchool. I caught a ride from a colleague so that I could attend the morning meeting in the Education Department. Even though it wasn’t my department and I didn’t know much of what was being discussed, it was still a learning experience to sit in on their staff meeting. Everyone was super nice and Chantal, the Assistant Manager of Volunteer Services, (who approved this shadow opportunity) is an absolute sweetheart and made sure everyone knew who I was and vice versa. It was a great atmosphere right out of the gate and I really appreciate the hospitality and kindness everyone has shown me in my time here.

Once the morning staff meeting concluded, I waited with Jen, a part-time Education Specialist for the Zoo, and shadowed2013-04-10 11.07.29 her as she taught and led a local school class in ZooSchool. This was a step up from the ZooCamp I attended a week prior. The main difference was the age group. ZooCamp was kindergarten age and the ZooSchool I was a part of was made up of third graders.

How it worked: Once the class arrived, Jen and I met them and then led them to one of the classrooms in the Education Foyer, where Jen then taught the class about biomes, habitats, animals, and adaptations. Next, the kids were given clipboards with two different habitat scenes, in which their task was to write down five animals from those specified habitats in the Zoo and note a few of their unique adaptations. Even though I am not a third grader, I still learned so much from Jen and greatly enjoyed how ZooSchool was operated.

After ZooSchool concluded, I headed back up to Marketing and went with my supervisor, Nicky, to assist with an on-site film shoot. At the end of the day, I was invited to attend a Conservation ZooMobile happening the next day, so I received approval and joined in on the fun again. This education event was taking place off-site at the Castro Valley Library. This was yet another fantastic program that Oakland Zoo puts on. The Docents were fabulous with the kids/audience and they had great presentations and information prepared for the hour session. Again, I learned so much and was so impressed with this outreach education program that the Zoo does.

EarthDay13Next up on the list was Earth Day Earth Day Earth Day! I attended the final planning meeting for Earth Day with my cohorts, took care of last minute prep items, and then came ready for the event on Saturday. It was a great turnout of Zoo visitors, volunteers, and outside conservation and animal related organizations. There was so much to do while walking through the Zoo, with heaps of hands-on learning activities for people of all ages. It was very rewarding for me to see the amount of people and activities around the Zoo for our Earth Day event, especially after playing a role in planning the past three months. Interacting with all of the different people and organizations, and being of assistance to others was also a highlight of working Earth Day. In addition, I have to admit, being dressed in head-to-toe khaki, with a radio on my hip, made me feel like quite the official Zoo employee. It’s the little things, folks. That sums up week fourteen and going green. Stay tuned for my final week as the Marketing Intern at Oakland Zoo.

Three Months at Oakland Zoo

by | April 11th, 2013

This week, I worked on social media, posted my week twelve blog post, and launched Oakland Zoo’s Pinterest account. Researching, creating, launching, and managing a Zoo Pinterest account was one of my original internship duties and objectives. This was a great idea because it will be something I can use on my resume, in my career portfolio, and it is a pinterest2really great asset to leave behind at the Zoo. Managing the sun bear cam came in handy this week as well, when a customer called to inform us how much he loves our sun bear cam and that the camera was pointing away from the bears. As one of my pre-determined responsibilities, I was able to go in and re-position the web cam. That was a really neat thing to be able to do and I am so glad to hear people are enjoying our sun bear cam.

A big highlight of my week was attending an hour long webinar about Pinterest that my supervisor brought to my attention. This webinar is something that I would not have the chance to participate in if it weren’t for being a part of the Zoo. Continuing on, I also had the opportunity to sit in on a Development meeting regarding the California Project. I learned so much watching a virtual piece that was designed to promote the project to potential donors. I also received great insight about the duties of the Development Department and what a day in their position is like. I love how many opportunities I have been given to expand my professional development while here, both internally and externally.

Besides social media and public relations, I was able to mingle with colleagues as we celebrated major milestones such as an employee anniversary and a celebration for a bride-to-be. This of course included delicious food that I chose to enjoy once again. Having these gatherings once in a while has been nice and has really reinforced the sense of everyone being my Zoo family.

I was able to take advantage of downtime in the office at the beginning of the week to take a walk through the Zoo and reallyfox remember and enjoy the amazing place that I work at every day. As an added plus, I saw a wild grey fox and a few wild deer roaming the property. Walking into the Zoo in the morning and seeing Nikko, our white-handed gibbon, literally just hanging out or swinging, brought a big smile to my face too. Not too shabby of a place to intern, right?

Another week is in the books. I’ve passed the three month mark and am nearing the end of my time here at Oakland Zoo as the Marketing Intern. Time sure has flown. I have two exciting weeks left. Let’s see what else I can learn and do in that time.