Do you know who’s turning 40 at Oakland Zoo this year? No, it’s not Osh the elephant or Benghazi the giraffe. (Those guys are mere babies by comparison.) I’ll give you a clue. This creature has more than 160 legs and can be found roaming wild on nearly every pathway in the Zoo. Give up? It’s the Oakland Zoo Docent Council. And on April 27th, they’ll be celebrating a whopping forty years of serving the public here at the Zoo.
It was back in 1973 when Zoological Society Executive Director Flora Aasen suggested that the Zoo recruit volunteers to serve as docents to help educate and assist zoo visitors. From that idea, the first docent training class was established and held at the Zoo (which consisted of a mere ten people!) In the forty years since, as the Zoo has undergone tremendous growth, we’ve trained and graduated hundreds of passionate individuals into the program. During that same period, there’s been a wealth of noteworthy docent accomplishments, including the introduction of the Zoomobile, ZooSchool, and Wildlife Theater programs; the leading of untold thousands of guided cart tours, walking tours, and Animal Encounters; the creation of talking storybook boxes and docent bio-fact stations; the initiation of numerous events such as the public lecture series, Animal Fund Boutique, Animal Amore tours, Celebrating Elephants Day, and many others as well as the hosting of Jane Goodall’s National ChimpanZoo Conference . In addition, the docents have sold thousands of Oakland Zoo memberships, increasing the number from 600 to an impressive 26,000; supported and fundraised for causes like Quarters for Conservation, Budongo Snare Removal and Uganda lion conservation, and personally donated an astounding $200,000 to help in the construction of the Education Center, the Children’s Zoo and the new veterinary hospital. Through their tireless efforts, the docents have advocated for animal conservation by helping to improve animal care here, and helped elevate Oakland Zoo to compete with the best zoos in the world. Not bad for a bunch of volunteers. And in 2012, the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents listed the Oakland Zoo Docent Council in the top ten of the longest running programs of its kind in the US.
On Sunday April 27th, the docents will gather at the Zoo to celebrate these and many other accomplishments– and just as important, to look ahead to what is sure to be an even brighter future. Honored guests include a distinguished array of heavyweights including docent co-founders JoAnne Harley and Pam Raven Brett, former education directors Arlyn Christopherson and Anne Warner , as well as video participation by Oakland Zoo President and CEO Dr. Joel Parrott. This celebration comes at a time when Oakland Zoo stands poised to embark on its ambitious California Trail project, heralding a new era of wildlife education and conservation in the Bay Area. With forty years of momentum, the Oakland Zoo Docents are certainly ready to be a part of it. This anniversary celebrates a great future as well as a proud past, and promises to be a most momentous occasion!