Posts Tagged ‘wild animals’

Out to Sea with Sea Turtles

by | December 23rd, 2013

We spent last night in the town of Sandakan which used to be the capitol of North Borneo. It is nice to get needed provisions and have a good sleep. It was especially great that we all got to have dinner with Siew Te Wong, the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and bombarded him with questions that he answered with humor and grace. We are very excited to spend time at the center later this week.

This morning we had an adventurous boat ride into the Sulu Sea to Turtle Island. Turtle Islands Park is located 40 km north of Sandakan and consist of tree islands, Pulau Selingaan, Pulau Bakkungaan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan. The park is known for its protection of the nesting of two endangered species of the sea turtle, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the smaller hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). The two turtle species lay their eggs here year-round.

This afternoon was free beach time and everyone had a ball snorkeling in the clear waters and relaxing in the sand. As only 50 people can come to the conservation island per night, it was a peaceful and relaxing experience. We all got to see one of my favorite sea creatures, the Christmas tree worms, a very bright and colorful polycheates, or marine burrowing worm.IMG_7316

Finally, after dinner and a film about the program, the announcement was made, “It’s Turtle Time!”. We followed the turtle team into the night and onto the beach where a huge mama green turtle had crawled up and dug herself a trench. We watched in awe as she laid around 100 wet, white eggs that looked like ping pong balls.  The staff collected the eggs and took them to a hatchery, where they buried them and labeled the nest. This keeps them safe from feeding reptiles, or other turtle mamas laying their own eggs.IMG_7348

Next, we walked to the edge of the sea and lined up behind a drawn line in the sand, cameras at the ready. In the arms of the staff was a laundry basket filled with a new clutch of hatchlings. They squirmed about all over each other, waiting for the moment when they were let loose. The basket was gently tipped over, and out they scrambled. As a conservationist, I am not allowed to use the word “cute”, but WOW — it was hard not to pick one up and give it a kiss for good luck. Instead, we did get to steer a few wayward ones towards the sea, but in general, the 100 babies knew exactly where they were going.

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I am now writing by headlamp, Lovesong fast asleep. Another big day in Borneo! I can’t help but marvel over the wild miracles of nature. After those babies enter the big sea, they experience the “lost years”, and only 1% will survive long enough to return to lay eggs themselves. We were told they navigate through crystals  in their heads that work as a magnetic compass. These are the mysteries of nature. I couldn’t dream up more miraculous stuff.

Which new conservation project will you vote for?

by | February 7th, 2013

Quarters for Conservation is an exciting new initiative launched in August of 2011. Each time a visitor comes to the Oakland Zoo, twenty five cents is donated to one of the zoo’s Conservation Field Partners. Visitors vote for their favorite of three different projects at the conservation voting station in Flamingo Plaza. Be sure to use your token and spare change to vote each time you visit.

Announcing the new 2012-2013 Quarters for Conservation Projects! We are so very excited to support these projects and get to know them better this year.

Protect the Puma, our Local Lion

We share our world with a beautiful keystone species, the puma! These native cats, also known as mountain lions, are in crisis, as habitat and movement corridors are increasingly invaded by human development. Pumas are also being killed by cars and depredation permits (issued when livestock or pets are attacked). The time is now to research and better understand these apex predators and their vital role in our ecosystem.

The Bay Area Puma Project, the first long-term study of mountain lions in the San Francisco bay area, works to track and record pumas, discovering their range, movement, feeding patterns and the effects of human development on puma populations. The Bay Area Puma Project aims to utilize this research to develop new conservation strategies and engaging educational programs to foster a healthy co-existence between humans and this magnificent local lion.

Care for the Malayan Sun Bear

Able to climb some of the world’s tallest trees with the help of its four inch claws, the Malayan sun bear is facing many threats to its survival. Clear cutting for logging and palm oil plantations destroys vital habitat, and poaching for the trade in bear parts kills adult bears and leaves cubs orphaned. Many of these cubs end up in the illegal pet trade, destined to live their lives in small bare cages, never to see the sky or feel the forest floor beneath their feet.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre rescues and cares for bears in need,   providing lifelong care for some and striving to return others to the wild. Through public awareness and expansion of the sanctuary, the Centre is making a vital difference in the effort to save this extraordinary bear!


Conserve Central American Wildlife

Illegal wildlife trafficking, often for the pet industry, has a devastating impact on animal welfare, species conservation, and ecosystems. Second to habitat loss, it is a major cause of species extinction. Many smuggled animals die in transit, and those that survive need constant care and attention.

The ARCAS Wild Animal Rescue Center was created by Guatemalan citizens in order to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals confiscated from smugglers operating in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The ARCAS Rescue Center is now one of the largest rescue centers in the world, receiving between 300 and 600 animals of more than 40 species per year.  Thanks to ARCAS, animals such as parrots, scarlet macaws, spider and howler monkeys, ocelots, jaguars and coatimundis, have a chance to live free and fulfill their natural role in the Mayan forest.

We are so very proud of our three wonderful projects. Good luck to them, and happy voting to all the wonderful Oakland Zoo  visitors.

Wild Animal Ownership Can Hurt All

by | November 17th, 2011

The events in Ohio demonstrate that the United States has an exotic animal regulation problem. Our country has not been able to address the lack of proper control over the keeping of wild animals as pets. To a zoo community that cares about the welfare of animals, those in the wild and those in captivity everywhere, this event was sad on many levels. My heart breaks for the wide variety of precious animals that were killed, but the 18 Bengal tigers lost on this day hit close to home.

First of all, this gorgeous species, and Asia’s most iconic predator, is vanishing in the wild. At the turn of the 20th century, an estimated 100,000 wild tigers inhabited a range extending across Asia. There are only an estimated 3,000–4,000 wild tigers left, and only 7% remains of the tiger’s once vast geographic range.

Threatened by habitat loss, diminished prey, human–wildlife conflict, and the demand for tiger parts, especially bones for traditional Chinese medicine, tigers are now classified as endangered. Considering how few tigers now roam the earth in their natural habitat, it seems unnatural that between 6,000 and 8,000 tigers live as captive pets in the United States.

Regulations around these issues in the United States are divided into federal laws and State laws. The US Fish and Wildlife Agency oversees the import and export of live animals. Most of the exotic animals in the United States under private ownership are not imported, but bred from animals already here. Each state has very different policies regarding what exotic pets residents can own, and the care that must be given them. While the state of California has some of the strictest exotic pet laws, Ohio is one of ten US states that allows people to keep dangerous exotic animals like tigers.

This bifurcation of regulations makes it difficult to track the welfare and safety of privately owned tigers. The government has no way of knowing how many tigers there are in captivity, where they are, who owns them, their quality of life, or what happens to their body parts when they die. Authorities also have no way of knowing if the bones and skins of thousands of tigers in private hands in the United States are entering the wildlife trade and fueling the global demand for tiger parts.

It is my hope that the events in Ohio will awaken these sleepy policies, inspire tighter regulations within states, or even tougher federal laws. Meanwhile, we can act more awake in our own actions by avoiding all entertainment that uses tigers or other wild animals. We can also support organizations, such as the Performing Animal Welfare Society, Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund, and our own zoo, which has acted with compassion to give four tigers a new and forever home.

Please join us on November 17 as we screen the film, The Elephant in the Living Room. Winner of five Best Documentary Awards, the film courageously exposes the shocking reality behind the multi-billion dollar exotic pet industry with stunning photography, inspiring storytelling, and unprecedented access into a world rarely seen. We will also welcome special guest Warden William O’Brien from the California Department of Fish and Game. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium.

amy@oaklandzoo.org for more information.

21st Century Zoo Keeper

by | January 21st, 2011

Zoo keepers from all over the world studying training and enrichment at the Oakland Zoo.

Zoos sure have changed since the 19th and even 20th centuries. The most obvious changes have been in the housing of animals. Sterile concrete floors surrounded by metal bars have been replaced by natural substrates, rockwork, water features and climbing structures. What is not always as obvious is the difference in the zoo keepers! Unskilled laborers who merely raked, hosed and delivered food have been replaced with knowledgeable professionals who provide for the animals’ psychological needs in addition to their physical needs. 21st century Zoo keepers are compassionate, aware, and educated. How does this change take place? Where does an enthusiastic new zookeeper go to learn how to address an animal’s psychological needs? Where do experienced keepers go to hone their skills and learn the newest techniques? To the Oakland Zoo of course!
This is the second year in a row that the Oakland Zoo has hosted the Training and Enrichment Workshop for Zoo Animals (TEWZA) put together in conjunction with Active Environments and The Shape of Enrichment. Zoo keepers from all over the US and even as far away as Africa spent a week at the Oakland Zoo learning positive reinforcement training and effective enrichment strategies. In addition to classroom work and lectures, workshop participants were able to practice their hands on skills with some of the Zoo’s animals.
Training classroom work included lectures on operant conditioning terminology, socialization training, desensitization and acclimation, problem solving and shaping plans. Many of our own Oakland Zoo animals and keepers demonstrated training techniques for the workshop delegates. The participants were then broken up into smaller groups to write shaping plans for new behaviors before going out into the zoo to practice what they learned!

An anaconda explores novel substrate enrichment provided by the participants.

A gibbon enjoys a rope ladder provided by the particpants.

Another aspect of the workshop focused on enrichment. Lectures included the effect on animal welfare, setting goals, planning enrichment appropriate to the species, observation strategies, data collection, and safety. The participants separated out into small groups once again and planned enrichment for their designated species, including going through an approval process, building the devices and observing and evaluating the effectiveness of the devices. Several of the Zoo’s animals benefited from these enrichment projects!

Workshop participants observe an Aldabra tortoise participating in a voluntary blood draw using positive reinforcement.

Workshop Participants collect data on the effect their enrichment has on the animal's behavior.

More and more we are seeing zoo keeping as a holistic experience. By incorporating the psychological aspects of training and enrichment into our daily routines we are truly entering a time of renaissance for our profession. In the 21st century we are not merely keeping zoo animals, we are enriching their minds and their lives.

Animals of the Oakland Zoo’s Backyard

by | March 24th, 2010

Mallard Pair in Veldt Exhibit Photo Credit: Shauna Lavi

Among the Reticulated giraffes and other hoofstock in the African Veldt exhibit, one is likely to notice much smaller avian species speckling the scene.  “Do those birds belong in there?” I am often asked by students while leading tours. Little do they know how provocative that question really is.

Aside from the Egyptian Geese that are part of the exhibit, the two other avian species you are likely to see are ravens and mallards. The latter two are common native residents that find the Veldt to be a suitable habitat to eat, sleep, and even breed in. They also may compete with Zoo animals for their food, as was the case with the ravens thieving from the Griffon Vultures. If you ask the keepers if those ravens belong on the Veldt, you might not hear a resounding, “yes”.

Though some of these seemingly rogue individuals may be in the exhibits to the keepers’ chagrin, they are some of my favorite animals to interpret about. This is due in part to the exciting scientific facts one can teach about them; for example, ravens are in a family of birds (Corvidae) that have been proven to have an intellect on par with elephants and chimpanzees.

More important than the interesting factoids, however, is the overarching truth that such species are the ones that children are likely to encounter in local parks and their own backyards. If they can connect with their non-human neighbors that have evolved to “belong” in the Bay Area, they might develop a vested interest in making sure they can be here for a long time to come.

In the Conservation & Education department, we strive to instill this excitement for all wildlife in each and every participant of our programs.   While teaching in our classrooms, or out on tour in the Zoo and adjacent Arroyo Viejo Creek, we tell the stories of wild lives throughout the globe and how to conserve them.  I love teaching at the Zoo because of the amazing representation of animal diversity. On any given program, I can call upon the global perspective that exotic animals provide, while echoing the very local messages the native wildlife bring home.

Next time you walk through the Oakland Zoo, keep your eyes open for the myriad of birds flying overhead, the Wild Turkeys living with elephants or Western Fence Lizards doing “lizard pushups” next to African lions.  Those coincidental opportunities can foster the vital lifelines between local wildlife and us, the people in their communities.  They remind us that every organism belongs in some native habitat, and it is up to us to conserve and create those wild places in our own backyards.

In this series of blogs, I will highlight those native wild animals throughout the Zoo that you might not pay much attention to otherwise. Welcome to the backyard of the Oakland Zoo!