Posts Tagged ‘Volunteering’

Stepping Through Zam: Day 9, Children’s Zoo Module

by | January 25th, 2012

Franette Armstrong is sharing her journey through Zoo Ambassador Training.

Tonight we continue with invertebrates—those spineless creatures without which no horror movie would be complete—and I am already expecting chills instead of thrills. Maybe to know them is to love them, so I’m going to give them a chance to win me over.

Keeper Margaret Rousser was back tonight to give us a proper introduction to the many-legged residents of our Bug House. Margaret supervises the invertebrate Keepers and is responsible for keeping the exhibits filled with interesting animals, so who best to promote this part of the Children’s Zoo?

Margaret Rousser, Zoological Manager of the Children’s Zoo

 

 

All Insects are Invertebrates…

but not all invertebrates are insects. In fact, 40% of invertebrates are animals like spiders, scorpions and centipedes. Margaret said that invertebrates are the most popular exhibits in zoos today. Does that surprise you?

We covered our scorpions and millipedes in the lecture on Arthropods, so tonight our focus is on insects, which are also Arthropods. They lay eggs, might have wings, and some can metamorphose from one shape to another, like frogs. Butterflies have all these traits.

To be an insect, a bug has to have 3 body segments, 6 jointed legs, a pair of antennae, and a tough exoskeleton instead of skin.

 

Keeping Bugs in the Bug House

One of the challenges in keeping insects in a zoo is actually keeping them. Since all are pretty short-lived, constant replacements are needed and since they can fly and are small enough to get out through tiny openings,  the exhibits have to be, well, bug-proof.

In our Bug House the walls have windowed cut-outs that show different naturalistic settings similar to the insects’ home turf. Behind the scenes, though, these little dioramas are more like aquarium tanks sitting on wheeled carts. When the insects are fed, or need other care, the tanks are wheeled backwards where they can be [very carefully] opened.

So….off we trotted with our flashlights to seek out the Bug House and its occupants. I can’t say I let myself look at the cockroaches very long, but the branch-like Walking Sticks were fascinating—especially their molted exoskeletons (their hard outer “skin” which looked exactly like them.

Several of our New Guinea Walking Sticks

Our Honey Pot Ants use some of their colony members as food storage depots: the workers collect nectar and store it in the bellies of fat little repletes who hang from the ceiling of the nest all the time, taking food in and regurgitating it back up when needed to feed the others in times of food shortage. These ants are also predators: they kill and eat other insects like fruit flies.

And while we are on the subject of ants, there are the Leaf Cutter Ants. These are the most fascinating insects to watch as they literally turn trees and forest floors into moving green rivers. The “Forager” ants go off and cut leaves into pieces many times larger than they are, which they carry back to the nest. “Gardener” ants then grow fungus on the leaves which is later broken off and fed to the queen and others. Here’s a wonderful video showing it all in action: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/kids/animals-pets-kids/bugs-kids/leafcutter-ant-kids.html.

Here's a single Leafcutter Ant making off with his bounty.

 

The Cobalt-Blue Tarantulas are absolutely gorgeous and absolutely venomous. These bugs are very aggressive and can live 20 years.

Sometimes in nature, beauty is deadly—at least for predators who get too close to Cobalt Blue Tarantulas

Chilean Rose Tarantulas, on the other hand, take a passive approach to defense: they have hairs on their bellies that are very irritating to predators who happen to get close enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presentations are Next

We just got our final instructions for the presentations we each will be giving on Saturday. I’m going to talk about how our Black Tree Monitors, who only live in New Guinea (and zoos)  teach us how the adaptations of animals and their environments are inseparable. That’s why we have to preserve rain forests and rivers and deserts and oceans: animals that are adapted to live one place can’t pick up and move somewhere else. And if their climate changes, their adaptations might not help them at all. Ask the polar the bears about this.

Wish me luck!

Stepping Through ZAM: Days 10-12, Children’s Zoo Module

by | January 23rd, 2012

This is Franette Armstrong's last post of her Zoo Ambassador Training to become a docent in the Children's Zoo.

 

 

Day Ten found twenty-some very nervous ZAMs in search of an exit…because today is Presentation Day and none of us wants to go first.

But it wasn’t so bad. We each gave our 3-minute presentation of an assigned animal, then a class member was chosen to offer some comments, followed by constructive suggestions from Sarah Cramer, our teacher, or by an experienced docent. We all escaped with egos intact.

Sarah Cramer, ZAM Trainer extraordinaire.

To celebrate, we had a wonderful potluck lunch where visible relief was as plentiful as the food. Many of the keepers and docents came to take part in this festive occasion: We are getting to know one another and becoming part of the “Zoo family.”

Unfortunately, we were also given our final exams to take home and answer using our notes and printed handouts (but no phone calls to each other). We have until next Friday morning to go to a website and post our answers on line before Sarah gets to work that day. Snooze, you lose.

 

Day Eleven: Stay Home and Work on Our Exams

I can’t share the test with you because Sarah might stop speaking to me, but it was only 3-4 pages of multiple-choice questions. Not too hard and actually kind of fun because it’s forcing me to re-read my notes and all the “Blue Sheets.” It’s a great chance to reacquaint myself with the many animals we have studied in the past five weeks and I needed this brush-up.

If you’d like to see some of the Blue Sheets, which provide comprehensive information written by our Zookeepers about the animals in the Zoo, go to Oaklandzoo.org and click on the tab that says “Animals.” They are there by taxonomic groups: Mammals, Reptiles, etc.

 

Day Twelve: Zoo Trivia and Graduation

Part of of our final exam was to study all the information about the Zoo itself so we can answer any question a visitor might ask. Where are restrooms? The strollers? When are the otters fed? Where can I get a band-aid? Where’s my child????

We formed small groups and competed against each other for Trivia points with Sarah awarding bonus points as the mood struck her and competition becoming more intense and more hilarious as the morning went on.

A group shows its stuff in ZAM Trivia.

 

When Good Visitors Act Badly

The next activity: role playing what to do (and not do) if a visitor ever misbehaves, not that any ever will :-)

The docents and Sarah got together and performed skits of potential situations we might encounter and our groups had to show different ways we would get the situation under control. We were falling down laughing at how good the docents were at deflecting everything we did so they could continue acting out. I certainly hope I never encounter visitors like them!

The whole point was to review all the ancillary aspects of being a docent: radio operation, lost-child procedures, controlling visitor behavior that’s unsafe or upsets the animals, plus Zoo rules and how to enforce them.

 

Graduation Isn’t the End

Finally, it was graduation time. We got our certificates and were each assigned a docent mentor to meet with several times over the next few weeks so we can prove we are ready to be turned loose in the Children’s Zoo. They will help us with behind-the-scenes mechanics, such as where to find the biofacts and puppets, and how to do a radio check, and they have a long list they have to go through to make sure every base is covered.

These are a few items on the checklist we have to pass:

~Demonstrate a working knowledge of animal facts for the majority animals in the Children’s Zoo.

~Provide appropriate answers to sensitive or difficult questions.

~Present information that is educational, entertaining, comprehensible and age-appropriate.

~Demonstrate working knowledge of radio protocols (such as lost child and emergency procedures).

And 16 more!

When they sign us off, we get our t-shirts and name badges and are free to move about the Children’s Zoo. Whew.

 

Will we be Docents after all this?

Not quite! Once we have graduated from all three modules and passed the Docent mentoring in each part of the Zoo, we then can take a test on all of it and if we pass, we enter the elite corps called Docent Council—currently 77 members strong. What does this get us? Well, the chance to do even more for the Zoo such as learn to drive the electric carts and do cart tours, perform in the Wildlife Theater, take positions on the Docent Board, and go on all kinds of interesting field trips to animal research projects in the Bay Area.

Becoming a Docent is a Very Big Deal. This one module required 39 hours of classroom and in-zoo instruction plus homework, plus docent mentoring. Some of our Docents have been with the Zoo over 20 years and volunteer their expertise several days a week—not to mention all that they do to help train us ZAMs. When you see a Docent or ZAM walking around the Zoo, tip your hat and realize that they are highly trained by the best, and highly committed to helping you appreciate everything our Zoo has to offer.

Do our animals deserve anything less?

 

More ZAM Training Coming Up

In January the Savannah Module will begin and I am already signed up. Stay tuned as we learn about zebra and elk, giraffes and lions…all the charismatic animals of the African plains. Can’t wait!

Until then, hope to see you in the Children’s Zoo.

 

 

 

Read about previous ZAM Training here: www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/category/volunteering/

 

 

Stepping Through ZAM: Day 8, Children’s Zoo Module

by | January 5th, 2012

Franette Armstrong is taking us through her Zoo Ambassador Training as she prepares to become a Zoo Docent.

I don’t know about you, but I have never given much thought to animals’ teeth. Turns out you can tell what an animal ate while it was living by looking at its jaw later. Today we studied some “biofacts” (physical specimens) to learn the ins and outs of how animals eat.

Herbivores have lots of molars—back, flat teeth for grinding branches, grasses and seeds.  Since their food doesn’t try to escape, they use their front teeth like pruning sheers to clip leaves and stems.

Herbivores don’t need sharp front teeth to catch prey.

 

 

 

 

Carnivore teeth on the other hand, are sharp and scissor-like. Their front teeth bite and hold on while their long canine teeth tear into prey. Their molars are used for slicing rather than chewing because they mainly swallow their food in whole chunks.

The canines on one of our new Tiger sisters are not what you would want to see on a dark path at night—and she was just playing around. Photo Credit: Steve Goodall

 

Omnivores, such as otters and bears, eat both plants and meat, so not surprisingly, they have a combination of sharp front teeth and grinding molars. Humans are set up with teeth like this, whether we eat meat or not, so look in your own mouth to see an example of omnivore teeth.

Insectivores, such as rodents and some bats, have sharp molars that can tear through the shells of insects.

The jaw of a hedgehog shows the sharp molars and lack of incisors of insectivores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Onto Birds…and Australia

You might wonder why it has taken so long to get to birds when they form such a huge part of our ecosystem. Reason is, we only have one species of bird in the Children’s Zoo: the Emus in our Australia exhibit. Nonetheless, understanding them requires understanding Bird taxonomy.

If you were ever into dinosaurs as a kid, the first fact we learned won’t shock you: Birds are members of the Class Reptilia. Yes, indeed…birds are Reptiles right along with crocodiles, snakes, lizards and something called Tuataras.

Tuataras are the oldest species of reptile living today and are found only in New Zealand.

Birds are defined as an animal with feathers and a beak that lays eggs. Flying is not a requirement, so Emus, Ostriches and Kiwis, who long ago lost their ability to fly, still count as birds. Emus are the second largest birds in the world (Ostriches take first place) and give us a chance to learn about feathers.

We looked at many types of feathers to see what allows birds to fly. One of the reasons Emus can’t, besides the fact that their wings are tiny remnants of what their ancestors had, is that their feathers are soft and downy, each actually two separate feathers connected at the stem. Their main purpose is to give these land-loving birds extra warmth.

Emu feathers are a radical departure from the single-quilled types on flying birds.

 

 

 

Emus are fascinating for another reason: the males take complete responsibility for nest-building, egg-incubating and child-rearing while the liberated lady Emus go off to lay eggs for some other lucky male.

This baby emu is just coming out of his dark-green shell.

The devoted daddy Emus sit on the dark green eggs, which look like large avocados, for about 8 weeks without leaving the nest to eat or drink. They can lose a third of their body weight during this period so they prepare by pigging out for months ahead of time. Once the babies are hatched, Dad shepherds them around until they are old enough to have and care for their own eggs.  He will even take in orphan babies if they are smaller than his own.

 

Marsupial Moms are Busy

Interesting reproductive abilities are a theme today as we moved on to Wallaroos and their baby-having rituals.

Now you already know that Kangaroos, Wallaroos, Wallabies and Opossums all raise their babies in pouches. That’s what Marsupials do. You might not know this, though: A mother Wallaroo can have three babies at once: one in the uterus, one in the pouch, and a Joey “at foot” who can hop in and out of the pouch for a quick milkshake whenever he wants. You can watch a great video of that here.

The Joeys keep this up until they are 14 months old and then go off and start having kids of their own. Here’s a great video about two of our Joeys.

Our baby Joeys move in and out of their mother's pouch whenever they are hungry or scared.

About to Get Buggy

We ended our class today with a brief lecture on Arthropods, which include all the inhabitants of the Bug House: ants, spiders, scorpions, millipedes, beetles and walking sticks. These are the only invertebrates in our Zoo.

As you will remember from Day One, Arthropods don’t have backbones…their skeletons are on the outside of their bodies in the form of shells or scales, and they all have jointed legs, so worms don’t fit into this Class.  Wednesday night we’ll go up close and personal with all of them. Yikes!

Enjoy your weekend,

 

 

To read about previous Zoo Ambassador training classes please visit:

www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/category/volunteering/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping through ZAM: Day 7, Children’s Zoo Module

by | December 23rd, 2011

Franette Armstrong takes us through Zoo Ambassador training with her.

 

Bipolar. That’s how I felt after tonight’s presentation by Amy Gotliffe, our Director of Conservation.

On the one hand, we heard heart-breaking stories of what is happening to animals everywhere.

On the other hand, we heard heartwarming stories about what our Zoo is doing to protect and preserve animals and their habitats.

Amy Gotliffe, Director of Conservation

 

 

Which would you like first? The good news or bad? I’ll give you the bad first so we can end on an upbeat note:

One in five animals is in danger of extinction. That’s 20%, right? We are losing animals faster than their species can evolve to adapt to the changes humans have made to the planet in the last 35 years.

Illegal killing and collection of animals for Asian medicine, bushmeat and the pet trade is a huge cause of animal death and suffering. Sun bears are placed in “crush cages” so their bile can be extracted. Chimps are trapped in snares where their limbs are torn off, and everything from parrots to monkeys to lions are captured to sell to  stores, auctions, and over the internet.

I was shocked to learn that the money made off the black market for pets is second only to the drug trade. In Central America up to 80% of the tropical birds captured and exported die before they reach their destination,  but there’s still enough profit left to make the pet trade a major cause of animal endangerment.

Fashion is another killer of wild animals and a high-profit industry that supplies the endless market for ivory, leather, snakeskin, fur coats and other status symbols.

Amy suggested that we not lecture our friends who have these items, but we shouldn’t compliment them, either. There’s nothing beautiful about killing animals for vanity.

Western appetite for seafood is devastating our oceans.

 

We have to ask ourselves where we Westerners fit into the economics of all this. Amy pointed out that seafood is our version of  bushmeat and we are wiping out entire species of fish like Chilean sea bass and King crab by unsustainable fishing and fish farming.

If we accept as pets animals like Amazon parrots, Gila Monsters, and even ocelots and tigers, which either come directly from the wild or were bred from parents that did, how can we criticize Africans for selling their own wildlife?  Every time a wild animal is bought as a pet, a slot opens up for another one to be captured and killed in transit or sold.
I told you this was depressing.

Habitat loss is another reason species are disappearing daily. Entire forests are being cleared so that we can mine the Coltan mineral used in our cellphones and electronics. As a result, the Mountain Gorilla population in the Congo has gone from 258 five years ago to 130 at last count. This mining is just as bad for people: it has brought slavery and violence to the Congo.

Habitats are being destroyed every day to give us lumber, paper, palm oil, precious metals… things we use without giving it a thought. People need to feed their families, though, so many of our projects abroad are to help locals develop alternatives to killing their wildlife.

Air pollution, water pollution, careless introduction of
nonnative plants and animals, all are taking their toll on
animals as diverse as polar bears and frogs.

Our own wild animals here in the Bay Area—bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions—are losing out like grizzlies, elk, and wolves did a century ago. We want to build on their land,
hike on their hills and then when they are forced to meet us face to face, we want them killed. More often than not, they are killed because of property damage, not because of threats to human safety.  As Amy said, we are hardly role models for the rest of the world when our needs conflict with animals’.

That brings me to the good part

Whew! Thought I’d never get to this but our Oakland Zoo is involved in dozens of projects here and around the world to stop this steady death spiral. I’ll just name a few we learned about tonight:

The Budongo Snare Removal Project is supported solely by the Zoo to help chimps in Uganda who are being swept up accidentally in snares left for animals that are wanted for food. This project has turned former hunters into conservationists and is a model for programs in other countries.

One of many types of snares that are capturing and maiming wild animals.

The Zoo supports with staff and supplies the Kibale Fuel Wood Project to offer residents in Uganda an alternative to clearing their forest for cooking fuel.

In the Bay area our Zoo supports The Bay Area Puma Project to help protect our local wildcats through research and judicious use of dart guns.

California Condors are coming back from near-extinction and our Zoo is building a facility to help treat those that have lead poisoning from the buckshot they pick up in their food.

We already learned about our Head Start program for the Western Pond Turtles (ZAM Day 4) and there are many, many more conservation efforts the Zoo supports through donations, supplies, staff and public education.

Our new “Quarters for Conservation” program is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects Zoo visitors vote for with tokens they receive on admission.

Zoo Visitors have the chance to vote for 4 different conservation projects when they use the tokens they receive with admission.

On top of direct help to animals, the Zoo does its part by recycling, composting and using solar panels and hybrid or electric vehicles.

If you’re like me, you might feel overwhelmed by the size of the need and how urgent it is. I have an ache in my stomach just thinking about it right now. At least as a docent and volunteer I will be able to get directly involved in helping people understand that our choices have consequences.

A few easy things we can do right now

• Don’t flush kitty litter. The bacteria in cat feces isn’t killed by sewer treatment and is sickening the endangered sea otters.

• Don’t buy exotic or wild pets including reptiles and tropical birds. Here’s the  listing of illegal pets in California.

• Recycle your cellphones at the Zoo and demand that electronics companies develop gorilla-friendly technologies.  You’ll get a free train ticket and the phones will go to a group that refurbishes them to reduce the need for more Coltan. Write a letter to your cellphone maker today.

• Eat sustainably harvested fish. To get a list of what to avoid, go to  Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. You can print a pocket guide that makes choosing the right fish easy.

• Buy handmade products from the Zoo’s Conservation section of the gift shop. Sales of jewelry and other items help support people in Africa so they won’t have to kill wild animals to live.

Volunteer to make a difference.

I’m sure Amy’s complete list of things we can do would take a hundred blogs, but we have to start somewhere and I am going to go write Apple this minute about Coltan mining.

Stepping through ZAM: Day 6, Children’s Zoo Module

by | December 8th, 2011

Franette Armstrong diaries her progress through Zoo Ambassador Training.

Today Sarah showed us her true stripes as the Zoo’s Education Specialist: We focused on how children learn and how to interpret the world of animals for them.

The real job of kids is to learn and the way they learn is to play. There are all kinds of types of play, though, and Sarah took us through everything from the solitary play of babies to the sophisticated world of cooperative play among seven year olds.

The real job of docents in the Children’s Zoo is to encourage kids to learn about animals through play. We can do this by helping them to explore with all their senses.

Learning is child's play.

 

Back out to the Zoo

Most of our day was spent in the Zoo learning from the keepers and experienced docents.

First, the goats introduced themselves while Keeper Chelsea introduced us to the contact yard and took us into the kitten room to meet the three fluffballs there.

It’s nice to know that everywhere in the Zoo animals have a chance to take themselves “off exhibit” when they want a break, but it is especially important in the contact yard. This makes them happy campers when they are out among the children and the kids find a lot of joy in their friendliness. I watched one little girl circle the yard while leaning her full weight against a Nubian Goat. The patient goat managed to stand upright and went along cheerfully with this bonding experience.

Chelsea Williams shows ZAMs how contact yards work.

 

 

Next, it was down to the animal commissary where Keeper Zach took us on a tour of  Food Central—the place where everything that is fed to our residents gets brought in, prepared and disseminated to the keepers. We saw an elephant popsicle in the works, volunteers sorting crates of donated fruit so only fresh, ripe peaches will make it into the food bowls, and freezers packed with everything from whole chickens to fig newtons.

Fig newtons make great Trojan Horses, Zach said, for the vitamin pills nearly all our animals would rather not take.

It is amazing how many stores, organizations and farms donate fresh food to our animals daily. On top of that we buy over $100,000 of hay a year plus everything else—cereals, special zoo diets, meat, nuts, yogurt and other treats including insects and live fish. Every species has its own special diet and there are pages of recipes our commissary staff prepares daily.

Only people-grade food is good enough for our animals.

Role Modeling Interpretation

When we got back to the classroom we were going to learn about the art and science of interpreting exhibits to children and adults, so as a warm-up we were divided into groups so experienced docents could model how they would engage kids with various animals in the Zoo. There are four parts to the formula and, depending the age of the child, sometimes the parent is the audience as much as the kids.

The first docent in my group was Carol Kerbel at the River Otter exhibit. She used a puppet to engage a little girl with her dad and show us the four steps we will learn to cover for every animal.

Step One: Tell an interesting fact about the animal. “Hi, I’m a River Otter,” she said while making the otter puppet talk. “I live on the land and under the water. My special paws help me swim. Can you hold your hand like this? That’s right. That’s how you swim under water. And I have whiskers so I can feel my food when I’m down there.” She let the little girl pet the puppet’s whiskers.

Step Two: Tell what threatens their survival. This girl was very young so Carol said, “The water is my home so I need it to be very clean so I can live in it.” Looking at the dad, she continued. “My cousins, the sea otters are having lots trouble because their home is the ocean and it is getting dirty.”

Docent Carol Kerbel uses a puppet to get her points across.

Step Three: Tell what we can do to help. “You can help me by keeping our rivers and streams clean.” Clearly, this was a message to the dad. “Wash your car in a car wash and don’t use chemicals in your yard because all the soapy water and pesticides go into the rivers and ocean and make my house dirty.”

Step Four: Tell what the Zoo is doing to help. “We pick up our trash because everything on the ground can blow into our creek and go out to the ocean.” The little girl was entranced and asked to hug the otter puppet.

We saw versions of this four-part message at every station. A young man was taught about the size of our bats (the docent used a rope to demonstrate wingspan). We learned more about our pigs, and ended up enjoying the antics of the lemurs, who were being fed.

Interpretation is an Art

Sarah is credentialed by the National Association for Interpretation as a guide and as a trainer of other guides. She had put together a concise summary of an amazing amount of information about interpretation for the last half-hour of class.

It all boils down to making information relevant to any particular audience. That is the best way to help them learn about and remember what they’ve seen. Here’s a sample of a message that might help adults appreciate bats:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homework

Oh no. We knew this was coming, but I didn’t expect it so soon. In addition to the normal homework that will send us into all the Zoo’s websites to gather conservation messages, we have to write the outline of our final presentations.

Each of us is assigned an animal in the Children’s Zoo to discuss for 2-3 minutes. Mine is the Black Tree Monitor which I now will have to pay a visit. I can’t say that I am really excited about this particular animal (why-oh-why couldn’t I have a mammal?) but maybe after I do my research and spend time with it, I will be. Maybe.

Have a great weekend,

Going Batty in Australia – Part 1

by | November 4th, 2011

Buttercup in the seated position

Last Monday I began my trip from the Oakland Zoo to Atherton, Queensland, Australia to volunteer for three weeks at the Toga Bat Hospital.  From the moment I arrived (on Wednesday, because of the long travel time and the time difference) it was straight down to business.  My first duty as a volunteer was to feed a fun little Yellow-Bellied Sheathtail Bat (Saccolaimus flaviventris) named “Buttercup”.  Buttercup is one of approx. 100 bats that reside permanently at the hospital.  Injured as a juvenile far away from the bat hospital, the people who found her thought she was a fruit bat out of her normal range and so fed her fruit until she ended up at the bat hospital.  Because she was never fed a proper diet of insects she needs help eating her daily diet of mealworms.  What makes her funny is she likes to eat in very ungainly positions such as seated on her

Buttercup "standing"rear on the feeder’s leg, “standing” with her feet barely touching the feeder’s leg, and the slightly more natural position of upside-down against her feeder’s chest.

She may take a mealworm in one position but want to finish it in another.  Sometimes she needs to be rotated between the positions.  We try to get about 20 mealworms dipped in supplements into her while juggling her between the three different postures.  It was quite the introduction to my life for the next three weeks as I sat there in the sundress that I had just changed into in Cairns because of the intense heat and humidity feeding a bat, sitting her upright on my lap.  It was the first of many fantastic experiences that I would have.

Upside down Buttercup

I am extremely happy to be here due to the generosity of Elaine and Warren Lash who established a yearly fund to send an Oakland Zoo staff member to participate directly in a conservation project.  Without their contribution, I would not have been able to partake in this incredible experience.