Posts Tagged ‘wild animals’

Fulong Means Forest: Our Time with Sun Bears

by | January 3rd, 2014

Time with Bears:

Fulong means forest in Lundayieh, a tribal language in Borneo. A tiny sun bear cub, the smallest of all bear species, was found in the forest by a hunter’s dog and brought to the master who gave him the name Fulong.  The man kept the bear in a cage as a pet — but when he found out he could give her a better life, he relinquished her to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where we sat this morning in rapt attention as Gloria, the head of education, told us the history of some of the beautiful sun bears at the centre.Bear2

Sun bears and the work of Siew Te Wong was our inspiration to embark on a conservation expedition to Borneo in the first place. We have been in full support of his efforts to give a wonderful home to sun bears that all have a different conservation back story. This new center is right next to the Sepilok Orangutan Center and sure to be a hit. Many visitors to Borneo know about Orangutans, and now many will know about this amazing bear.BearGifts

After six years of helping Wong work as the founder and raise funds for this center, it is a THRILL for our group to be here to help them get ready for their soft opening to the public in January. After a survey of our skills and their needs — Gloria and I put together a schedule – and we rolled up our sleeves and got to work!IMG_7531

What a day we are having! In the rain and heat, one group is moving gravel with shovels and wheelbarrows, watching for venomous snakes and tiger leeches. Another is in the bear house, chopping diets of banana, papaya, green beans – and heating an oatmeal-like super nutritious bear meal. Some even enjoy cleaning the night houses in this sparkling new facility.IMG_7523

Carol and Jereld are off with Ling Mai to set up camera traps. We then work with her to create a matrix for observing bears which we will try out this afternoon. Diana then helps create a program to illustrate the data that will be gathered. Carol and Rob sit together at a laptop editing copy for the educational signage for hours and hours, quite happily. Tina then gives her ideas around signage design. We hardly want to break for lunch, but we do, ‘cause it is hot and we have worked up quite an appetite.IMG_7650

After lunch with the bear staff, Lovesong and Mary go off with the bear keepers, exchanging stories and ideas on how to best care for a sun bear. A crew works with Gloria to envision the visitor center’s future displays and interactives. Another crew gathers around Ernie to discuss the gift shop and other ways to bring in extra funds to the program. Apparently t-shirts and postcards are the big sellers, but creativity is flowing. I get to download about education programs, volunteer positions and conservation action and messaging. I also got the pleasure of taking portraits of the staff for their website.
IMG_7658As the afternoon rolls along, I feel so fortunate to have gotten to be here on this day atthis time in the center’s history. What a joy to share what we could with them, and how inspiring to meet this talented and dedicated staff who shared so much with us. We are all lucky, especially bears like Fulong!


Deep Dive

by | January 2nd, 2014

I live for a night like this. It is a perfectly warm and still after an evening rain, there was a beautiful sunset and a magnificent full moon, we are on a gorgeous island in the Celebus Sea. How can this be my last night in the wilds of Borneo? Visiting Mabul Island has been the cherry on top of an expedition that went beyond my greatest expectations. Today, we got to truly witness the wonders of the oceans. Some of us went scuba diving, but most of us snorkeled in the reefs and outer islands around Mabul. It is no-wonder this area around Sipidan Island is rated as a world-class dive site.IMG_4907

Some of the group had never seen such underwater wonders and it was a joy to witness the reactions, such as “I’m in a fish tank! “ and “how can this be real?”. Indeed, there were fish of every color, shape and size, like cigar fish that seemed to stand on their tails, bobbing up and down as they moved, parrott fish who you could hear munching on their lunches, lion fish and harlequin sweetlip fish, peacock rabbit fish and even a ray. You cannot help but respect the ocean after you have seen the wild beauty of a coral reef world.

I am so happy that Intrepid Travel, our travel company, chose Scuba Junkie’ Mabul Beach Resort as our place to stay, because on top of the beauty of the habitat, we got to learn about their excellent conservation work. Roan, their conservation manager, gave us an impromptu presentation on the challenges facing sharks due to shark finning and all that they are doing to help with Project AWARE. IMG_4897

We were so inspired, that late this afternoon we spent a few hours combing the beach for garbage. The island is challenged by this issue due to garbage washing in from the open sea, and to the many nomadic people who are currently living on the island. Scuba Junkie is working with them to do better when it comes to throwing away garbage – and it made me think of the challenges on my own street in Oakland, California – not so very different. Joining them in their beach clean-up efforts felt great.IMG_7871 IMG_7849

It is late and most of the group has lumbered off to bed. We spent the night in joyful competition with other divers in a trivia night that raised funds for the victims of the typhoon (we did not win). We also gave toasts to a wonderful expedition.  Toasts were made to the rain, to the orangutans, to the sun bears, to the leeches, to the ocean, to the forest, to our incredible luck at viewing wildlife, to the flying squirrels, to the inspiring people and to the feeling of having been part of something that only happens once in a lifetime. I toasted to Oakland Zoo, for employing me to help wildlife in Borneo and around the world and for allowing me to give others the gift of experiencing the wildlife first hand. It’s been another deep dive conservation expedition that changes lives.


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.


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. 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.