Posts Tagged ‘wildlife education’

Docent Training: Cultivating the Face of the Zoo

by | December 29th, 2015

docent with skeletal footBack in the 1980s when I was trying to get my first Zoo job, I dreamed up a clever, surefire plan: I was going to offer to work for the Zoo for FREE! I was sure I’d blow them away with my unheard-of generosity and be hired on the spot. Guess what? I didn’t realize that an organization like a zoo has hundreds of volunteers, and in fact couldn’t exist without them. Here at Oakland Zoo these volunteers work in a wide variety of capacities. One of the larger of these groups are the docents. These are the folks you see roaming the zoo, answering questions and giving directions. But their most important function is to teach the public about animals and conservation. Whether they’re leading a tour, staffing an interpretive station, or roaming about at large, the docents have a lot of ground to cover. And that goes double when it comes to the sheer amount of information they need to keep in their heads. Indeed, learning about each of the 145 animal species here at Oakland Zoo takes some doing.
This is where the Docent Training Class comes in. This annual fourteen week course wouldn’t be docents at tablepossible without a team of dedicated teachers and guest speakers. The majority of these speakers are Oakland Zoo animal keepers, whose years of experience and passion for their work make them ideal for the job. Despite their busy schedules, they’re always happy to take time out from their day to address the members of the docent class. They consider this time an investment, since docents make their jobs easier by working with the visiting public, ensuring understanding and respect for wildlife and the natural world.
The core curriculum of the class is taught by docents and instructors from the Zoo’s Education Department, and provides a foundation with basics such as physiology, reproduction, adaptations and taxonomy. The zookeepers serve to augment this curriculum. They typically do a Powerpoint presentation that deals with the specific animals under their care: how old they are and where they’re from; how many males and females in each exhibit, in addition to information about family trees, male-female pairings, and group behavioral dynamics. This biographical information “tells their story” and helps these prospective docents make a more personal connection with our animals, and by extension, helps the public do the same.
docents with feed bucketThese guest speakers also bring a wealth of outside experience to their jobs here at the Zoo, and their stories are a perennial source of inspiration for all our docents. They include people like Zoological Manager Margaret Rousser, a nine year Oakland Zoo veteran who traveled to Madagascar to work with lemurs, assisting local veterinarians in the field. Adam Fink, one of our resident reptile and amphibian keepers, worked as an environmental monitor with endangered toads in Arizona and in the San Diego area. Education Specialist Carol Wiegel works as a wildlife biologist for an environmental consulting company. She also volunteered in Northern Mexico where she studied desert tortoises. Bird keeper Leslie Storer has volunteered at animal re-hab centers as well as the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. And Colleen Kinzley, our Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, spent eight summers in East Africa, docent at QFC kioskworking with the Mushara Elephant Project of Namibia.
These dedicated individuals are just a small part of the team here at Oakland Zoo. If you or anyone you know has a passion for animals and enjoys working with the public, you might want to consider joining that team by volunteering as a docent at Oakland Zoo. In doing so, you’ll become part of a longstanding tradition of wildlife education and conservation. For more information on our docent training, please contact: Lisa O’Dwyer at or Chantal Burnett at

Come By and Say Boo!

by | October 15th, 2014

DSC_0019  It’s that time of the year again—time for Oakland Zoo’s annual spooky fun fest, Boo at the Zoo. It’s a two day event, so you can attend either on Saturday October 25th or Sunday the 26th. And just like last year, the Zoo is incorporating a science theme to Boo at the Zoo, so there’s going to be lots of opportunities to learn about cool stuff while celebrating your favorite October holiday.
Once again, Oakland Zoo is partnering with the Bay Area Science Festival, a group of science organizations such as the California Academy of Science, the Exploratorium, UC Berkeley and Stanford that celebrate the Bay Area’s scientific wonders, resources and opportunities. For example, Boo at the Zoo visitors will be able to check out the cool display of Dermestid Beetles on loan from the UC Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. The beetles feed on the flesh on dead animals, and thus are an important part of the natural food chain. The museum uses these “zombie bugs” to clean the skulls that they use for educational purposes. How cool is that?
DSC_0140Tables set up throughout the Zoo will host a variety of activities such as craft making, where kids can make things that benefit the Zoo’s animals. At another table you’ll find “Mystery Foods,” where kids get to stick their hands into a container and try to identify what’s waiting inside. It might feel like “witches’ fingers”, “baby vampire teeth,” or even “eyes of a newt.” But when you take a look inside you’ll find some of the many fruits and vegetables that Oakland Zoo keepers use to feed their animals with on a daily basis.
As usual, our Zoo mascot, Roosevelt the alligator will be on hand for photo ops with the kids. He’ll also be leading the big Halloween parade that starts at 11am and again at 1pm near the flamingo exhibit. Follow Roosevelt past the meadow to the Children’s Zoo’s Wildlife Theater, where an Animal Encounter show will DSC_0112present some of the zoo’s creepy creatures up close and personal.
Throughout the Zoo you’ll also find our dedicated volunteer staff—both docents and Teen Wild Guides, at a variety of stations where you can see, touch, and learn about cool animal artifacts such as skulls, teeth, fur and snakeskins.
And don’t forget about the Scavenger Hunt, where kids use clues to find secret locations throughout the Zoo. At each location, they get a stamp. When they find all the DSC_0084locations, they can redeem their stamps for a special Halloween goodie bag full of candy treats.
So bring your little ghosts and goblins (costumed or not) to Oakland Zoo’s annual Boo at the Zoo held on Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th. It promises to be a day of spooky fun for kids of all ages. See you there!

Forty Candles Burning Bright for the Docents’ Big Party

by | April 24th, 2014



Back in the Day

Back in the Day. Oakland Zoo now maintains a “protected contact” system in animal management.

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.

Doing What They Do Best

Doing What They Do Best

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!

Celebrate Earth Day with a Party for the Planet!

by | March 25th, 2014

Imagine you and your family and friends on a beautiful spring day dancing to live music, building with pine cones, learning to juggle,  meeting your next feline or canine family member and having a ball all while helping the planet? This is how Oakland Zoo celebrates Earth Day!Earthday 2007_123

Humans around the globe have been celebrating their connection to and reverence of the planet for centuries. It makes sense that our modern society would create a day such as Earth Day: a special day set aside to appreciate and take action for our one precious planet. Earth Day was first officially celebrated in the United States in 1970, and is now celebrated in nearly 200 countries each year.

Oakland Zoo also feels that the Earth is indeed something to celebrate, and therefore we produce one of the largest Earth Day events in the East Bay.  This year our event is on Saturday, April 19th and we are calling it a Party of the Planet.


Earth Day fits our mission perfectly: To inspire respect for and stewardship of the natural world while creating a quality visitor experience. What could be more inspiring than making a genuine connection with over fifty visiting organizations who work to help animals and the environment?  Other inspiring experiences will include creating with natural objects in the Create with Nature Zone and making beaded necklaces that help the lives of people and chimpanzees. Quality experiences will be had by all, such as a full day of educational shows in the Clorox Wildlife Theater with live animals, the Jug Bandits Band and Wildlife Action Trivia. Quality fun will be bountiful the meadow with our giant earth ball, circus antics, face painting and a real trapeze show with Trapeze Arts.

Other highlights of Earth Day include: a free train ride with donation of used cell phone or ink cartridge, voting for your favorite conservation project at the Quarters for Conservation voting station, Oakland Zoo docent and eduction stations, and of course, visiting our resident animals.

To further walk the talk, Oakland Zoo will be hosting our monthly Creek Crew clean up of Arroyo Viejo Creek on the grounds from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM.DSCN1072

We are thrilled to welcome the following organizations to join us this year: 96 Elephants, Africa Matters, All One Ocean, Amazon Watch, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Animal Rescue Foundation, Aquarium of the Bay, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Bay Localize, Bay Area Puma Project, Budongo Snare Removal Project, the Borneo Project, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Wolf Center, Circus Moves, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Create with Nature Zone, East Bay Co-Housing, East Bay SPCA, Eco-Viva, Go Wild Institute, Handsome in Pink, Kids for the Bay, KQED, Marine Mammal Center, Marshall’s Farm Honey, Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, Mickacoo Pigeon and Dove Rescue, Mountain Lion Foundation, Mountain Yellow Legged Frog Project, Northern Light School, Oakland Veg, Pachas Pajamas, Performing Animal Welfare Society, Pesticide Free Zone, Project Coyote, Rainforest Action Network, Red Panda Network, Reticulated Giraffe Project, River Otter Ecology Project, Samasheva, Save the Frogs,,, Sulfur Creek Nature Center, San Francisco Seafood Watch Alliance, Uganda Carnivore Program, Trapeze Arts, Ventana Wildlife Society, WildAid and the Western Pond Turtle Project.

You will need a full day to experience all this inspiration and fun! We hope to see you out there on April 19th!

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.