Posts Tagged ‘Zoo’

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 5, Children’s Zoo Module

by | November 23rd, 2011
All Zookeepers are comedians. Well, that might not be true, but the three we have met so far have been a lot of fun to listen to. I guess you have to have a sense of humor if you are going to follow goats or bats around all day at the Oakland Zoo.
Zoo Org Chart
Tonight we heard about how animal management at our Zoo is organized. The animals are divided into Strings and a primary zookeeper is responsible for each String. The Strings usually, but not always, correspond to where the animals live in the Zoo.
This can result in some strange collections for a zookeeper to care for. For example, tortoises are in the same String as zebras. Hornbills are cared for by the same keeper as the chimps. Lemurs go with the rabbits. Who knew?
Each String has, at the very least, a primary and a relief keeper plus a floating keeper who roams from one String to the next as needed. The elephants make up a string all by themselves and it takes four full-time keepers to manage their daily pedicures and all their other needs.
Margaret Rousser, who supervises the nine keepers related to the Children’s Zoo introduced us tonight to our River Otters and Bats.
Margaret Rousser, Zoological Manager
Our Zoo is part of the AZA Population Management Plan (PMP) for River Otters. The  two otter pups born here last spring, were the result of the AZA deciding that our otters had the right genetic strains to breed.
When Tallulah and Ahanu are at least a year old they likely will move to another AZA-accredited zoo to carry on the PMP program there. This is the way species are preserved in Zoos. There are dozens of these programs in operation throughout our Zoo.
Our River Otter pups
Did you know that animals raised by their own parents become better parents to their own offspring? Our otter pups were taken care of so well by their mom that our staff couldn’t even hold them at 12 weeks: they were just as wild as if they had been born on a riverbed somewhere. They are trainable, so that they can be cared for by our staff, but will never be tame and that’s what we all want. AZA zoos freely give each other animals so that species can be preserved.
Flying Foxes (AKA Fruit Bats)
Our Fruit Bats represent only two of over 1000 species of bats in the the world. The Malayan Flying Foxes,  our largest, have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. The Island Flying Foxes are smaller and sometimes visitors think they are babies. They aren’t, and we won’t be having any because all our bats are male.
An Island Flying Fox
Bats have fruit, heat and teddy bears to make them happy here. The toys were the creative idea of their keepers concerned that the  males were having trouble controlling themselves during mating season and this was causing injuries. When they were given stuffed toys, they all “bonded” with the bears instead of each other. We give our bats a temperature-controlled house for them to go in and out of, a huge aviary, and a balanced diet that they have to be tricked to eat. They love fruit, so we toss it in a sauce made of veggies and powdered vitamins. Fruit Bats are ideal for zoos because they are active in the daytime. Insect Bats would be pretty boring to watch because they go hunting at night and sleep all day.
Life in the Contact Yard
The animals in our contact yard (sometimes called the petting zoo) were introduced to us by Liz Abram, their keeper. It’s the only place in the Zoo where people can touch the animals, so we future docents needed some tips to pass along to the kids. It’s all about safety: don’t pet a goat’s head because he will butt you, wash your hands after petting the animals or being in the yard, don’t pick up stuff off the ground, wear shoes.
Here are just a few fun facts from Liz’s presentation:
Goats are social, Sheep are shy. Sheep can’t raise their tails, but goats can, and goats have beards which our sheep don’t. Sheep that shed are used for meat. Sheep that are used for wool don’t shed and have to be shorn. We have the shedding kind and brush them regularly. The wool that is brushed off gets used in other animal’s enclosures for sensory enrichment.
Our Pygmy Goats aren’t pregnant, they are just built that way. They have a two-chambered stomach like cows and they’re stocky because they were bred for meat.
Nubian Goats have long ears for the same reason rabbits do: to regulate their body temp. Elephant ears function the same way. So do horns on animals, surprisingly.
Long ears help keep the Nubian Goat cool.
The ears and horns are loaded with blood vessels that, being so close to the surface, allow the blood to be cooled as the ears are flapped or the horns run through a breeze.
Guinea Forest Hogs are a rare domestic breed and there are only about 200 left in the world. We have two of them.
Our puppy and kittens are new to the Zoo and in training to be Pet Ambassadors to kids who might be fearful of dogs or cats or might not have the chance to have their own pets. Our instructor, Sarah, predicts that Lily Rae, our Golden Retriever pup, will soon become kids’ most popular animal in the Zoo.
Lily Mae, Puppy Ambassador
Saving the few Lemurs that are left
All Lemurs come from Madagascar and, because of habitat destruction and hunting, are highly endangered. They have already lost 90% of their home turf.
Our Ring-Tailed Lemurs are part of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSPs actively keep endangered species going in captivity with as much genetic diversity as possible.
The little Blue-Eyed Black Lemurs are the only primates besides humans that have blue eyes.
Like Elephants and Meerkats, Lemurs live in matriarchal societies. The young males are kicked out of their family group when they are old enough to mate to prevent inbreeding.
This Ring-Tailed Lemur backs down a tree like it’s a fire pole.

To merge with another tribe, male Lemurs have to move in on another male’s turf and they do this by conducting Stink Wars—an amusing but peaceful way of establishing dominance. They have musty scent glands on their wrists that they rub against their tails and then they flash their tails at each other to see who has the strongest smell. The winner gets the females and a chance to breed. I’m guessing the loser is grossed out and takes a hike.

The island country of Madagascar has one of the most diverse animal populations on earth, yet species are disappearing every day. If you’d like to learn more about Lemurs and the other animals being pushed off the planet by population explosion and tree-cutting, start here.
You can help rainforest animals by using only paper and wood with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification which assures it came from a sustainable forest. The Oakland Zoo uses FSC wood or wood substitutes whenever possible.
Tonight’s homework is to explore what pets are and aren’t—300 words minimum. Better get started. While I’m doing that, you can be thinking: What is a pet?
Talk to you Saturday,
Franette

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

by | October 26th, 2011

Franette Armstrong is journaling her trip through Zoo Ambassador Training.

 

It’s 8:30am Saturday morning. I’m a half-hour early and sitting here on a bench taking in the incredible quiet of our Oakland Zoo on this beautiful morning. There’s a “don’t bother me I’m eating” feeling in the air—a sense of animal energy—but all I hear are birds chirping. Zookeepers and volunteers are no-doubt busy behind the scenes, but I can’t see them, either.

Suddenly I realize that as a volunteer I’ll have many chances to feel this uniquely companionable quiet. Breathing space.

Today we are going to be divided into groups to tour the zoo all morning so I’ll get back to you after we do that.

Later…

How not to get lost in the Zoo

Our instructor, Sarah Cramer, started us with a “Wayfinding in the Zoo” chalk talk that began to made sense of what has seemed a maze to me on prior visits.

The Zoo is a circle: walk up and you find the elephants, walk down and you get to the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo and Education Center. There’s a central cross-path and the same rules apply. The Children’s Zoo is in its own circle. Sounds easy enough.

As docents we’ll be expected to give directions from anywhere to anywhere: to all the restrooms and amenities, strollers and entries, rides and parking lots, so it’ll be map-study time for me.

Where else can you hear directions like ‘go up past the gibbons and hang a right at the macaws’?

Appreciating how far we’ve come…

After nearly three hours of touring the exhibits we returned to the Education Center for our bag lunches and an Oakland Zoo history slideshow.

Did you know that every single exhibit and enclosure has been renovated or rebuilt since 1985, when Dr. Joel Parrott became executive director here? Dr. Parrott had been the Zoo’s vet with a unique understanding of what animals need to thrive and a vision for what the Zoo could become.

Now, all the animals live in size-appropriate areas that give them vertical as well as horizontal mobility on all the surfaces they love. Elephants get to swim, gibbons get to zoom through tree tops, meerkats live in a rock village while reptiles bake in sunny terrariums. Except for those in controlled environments, our animals get to move between indoor and outdoor quarters—so they can decide when they need a little privacy or extra warmth.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a wonderful BBC video of an elephant and her calf swimming in the wild.

Another big change has been away from “free contact” to “protected contact” in our management of large or potentially aggressive animals. Our zookeepers now always keep a wall or fence between themselves and animals like the lions and chimps—for their own safety as well as the animals’. With this method no animal will ever have to be punished for harmful behavior.

And speaking of zookeepers, unlike the old days when some zoos promoted janitors into zookeeping roles, our Zoo today hires only the best and brightest of the highly-trained animal management experts out there. There are very few spots open nationally each year and only the most qualified get hired.

Zookeepers must have a 4-year degree in a related field and hands on experience. Our Zoo actually teaches intern and apprentice programs for would-be zookeepers.

An exciting future we’ll be part of
In addition to adding new animals and enclosures, the Zoo is working on plans for a 20-acre California Trails Exhibit to feature animals that have been extirpated from our state through habitat destruction and hunting. Visitors will step back to a time when wolves, grizzlies, elk and others roamed the East Bay hills. This exhibit will be reached by gondolas large enough to hold families and strollers.

The new Veterinary Medical Hospital, slated to open in 2012  will have an immediate impact on animal health. We’ll have a quarantine area big enough even for bison, something we lack right now. With new state-of-the-art equipment right here, we won’t have to transport animals out of the zoo for diagnosis anymore, saving time and reducing stress on a sick or injured animal.

Volunteers and Docents make a difference
Docents contribute well over 5500 hours per year interacting with zoo visitors and many more hours behind the scenes, we learned from Loretta McRae who’s president of the board of the 78-member Docent Council.

The 50,000 hours a year volunteers contribute to all aspects of the Zoo equates to over $600,000 annually in salaries that would have to be paid without their help.

In getting to know some of my fellow ZAMs today, I learned that we have among us a champion bread baker, two actors, a nurse, a biology teacher…our backgrounds are as different as our reasons for being in the class.

No homework tonight. Next stop, reptiles and amphibians.

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the Fruit Bats Take Flight

by | August 4th, 2011

Kahuna mid flight

As the keeper for the flying fox, one of the most common questions I hear is “when do they fly?”  During the warmer months, I can answer that there is usually at least one bat flying from approximately 3:30pm to 4:30pm.  If you see one climbing way up high on one of the ‘walls’ of the exhibit, they’re probably getting ready to fly, especially if it’s the wall closest to the Goat Barn.  Why do they climb up so high before they fly, you might be wondering.  Bats aren’t able to just spring into flight, like birds.  Lighter bats just need a little bit of space to drop before their wings can catch them but our big boys need several feet to drop before their wings can catch enough air to get lift and keep their large bodies off the ground.  As they get stronger throughout the summer they need less and less room to drop before they fly and they can be seen making shorter flights in the lower areas of the exhibit from time to time.

They also differ from birds in how they land.  The legs of bats are backwards compared to other mammals, so their

Kahuna coming around the bend

knees bend towards their backs and the bottoms of their feet face forwards.  When they want to land, they fly just above the landing site, like a branch, grabbing it with their feet as they do so and then swinging down into their normal upside-down position.  In the case of our exhibit, they usually just fly onto the soft mesh walls of the exhibit, clinging with their thumbnails and toenails.

Beethoven the bat gets into position

Many people probably wonder why our fruit bats don’t fly more to get from one place to another and it comes down to their natural history and behavior.  In Southeast Asia, where these bats live in the wild, they spend their days roosting in the canopies of trees occasionally waking up to move to a more suitable branch or to change position.  In the evenings, near sunset, one by one the entire colony flies from the trees of their day roost in search of food.  Once they find trees with tasty flowers and/or fruit, which can be as far away as 30 miles, they separate into smaller family or feeding groups and eat in two hour-long sessions, resting between and after these sessions.  When the sun starts coming up, they fly back to their day roosts and noisily squabble for the best positions on the trees where they start the whole cycle over again.

Here at the Oakland Zoo, they don’t have to look hard to find their food.  In the mornings, it’s either hanging from clips in their exhibit or, when it’s too cold outside, from chains in their night house and at night we put up 60 bowls full of a healthy and delicious fruit and veggie mixture out for them to eat.  Any flying they do is mostly for fun!  Right now we

Bat landing

have two Malayan Flying Fox (the larger of the two species that we house here) in particular who are superstar flyers – Kahuna and Beethoven.  Most days when the temperature is above 75 degrees F, they can be seen either flying laps around the interior of the exhibit or flying from one side to the other.  I got these photos of the bat superstars in action recently.

Who’s the Oldest in the Zoo?

by | December 8th, 2010

Quick – how many dinosaurs can you name?

I bet you came up with at least three: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops.  Maybe you are better at this than me, so you got Pterodactyl and Velociraptor too.  Good job!

Now quick – how many other prehistoric animals can you name?

In my experience, most people can come up with just one, the Woolly Mammoth.  But the truth is that many creatures inhabited the Earth along with the dinosaurs and were related to animals we know today.  Three fossil replicas live in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo, right alongside their modern descendants.

Protostega gigas lives next to the underwater alligator windows.  It is pretty easy to recognize it as a turtle.  In fact, Protostega was a sea turtle that lived 97-66 million years ago.  Its preserved remains are found from South Dakota to Texas, from Colorado to Kansas, since 97 million years ago the Great Plains of today were underwater!  This turtles wide, flat ribs were probably connected by a leathery covering, similar to the shell of modern Leatherback Sea Turtles.

Now this fossil is pretty easy to recognize as a turtle, but some prehistoric animals are much harder to identify.

Check out Eroyps and imagine a salamander that was 5-6 feet long!  This was no gentle giant, Eroyps was a fierce predator that hunted both in water and on land, similar to crocodiles today.  It lived roughly 280 million years ago, which pre-dates the dinosaurs.

Our last Children’s Zoo resident fossil is much younger, a mere 144-65 million years old.  This coincides with the peak of dinosaur populations, which makes sense because Sarcosuchus imperator* ate dinosaurs!  This ancient crocodilian grew up to 40 feet long and weighed about 17,500 pounds.  Notice how the eyes and nostrils are on top of the skull, which is very similar to modern alligators.  Scientists think Sarcosuchus was a “sit and wait” predator like our American alligators.  They would float motionless in the water, able to breathe and watch the shore because their nostrils and eyes are on top of their head.  When an unsuspecting dinosaur (or deer today) came to the water’s edge to drink – BAM!  Sarcosuchus would launch itself forward with tremendous speed and power and grab it’s prey.

So we have three fossil replicas in the Children’s Zoo, none of which are dinosaurs, but all of which are related to animals alive today in our exhibits.  To find turtles like Protostega gigas, head to the RAD Room pond exhibit and look for our spotted turtles or three-toed box turtles.  While you are there, check out all the different frogs; they are amphibians like Eroyps.  And don’t miss the American alligators, a modern day (and much smaller) Sarcosuchus!

*Sarcosuchus imperator holds a special place in my heart because that’s the nickname I use during our ZooCamp program.  It’s not unusual for children in the grocery store to call out “Hi Sarco!” when I walk by!

20 New Frogs Arrive

by | October 14th, 2010

Panamanian Golden Frog

I received a call on Friday, October 8th that went something like this, “Hi Nicky, we just came back from the airport. The frogs are here.” I thought to myself, well, that’s pretty cool.  I’ve never seen frogs get unpacked.  This would be a chance to get away from my desk and see something rare. So, I grabbed a camera and headed down to the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo to check out our new Panamanian Golden frogs.

As I walked in behind-the-scenes of the RAD Room (Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Room), I was delighted to see Keeper Adam Fink eager to unpack TWENTY brightly colored little frogs.

Keeper Adam unpacks frogs

The yellow and black amphibians reminded me of those little plastic frogs you see in gum ball machines, except these were very jumpy.  There were ten containers that resembled something you would see at a deli counter. Each container held two frogs…and yes, each container had breathing holes. As soon as I arrived, Adam jumped into action to unpack each frog carefully, weigh it, photograph it, and place it into a special aquarium. These tasks took patience and persistence because the frogs are fast and slippery!

Frogs in containers

The twenty Panamanian Golden Frogs were born at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, MD. The frogs are extinct in the wild and several zoos in the US are breeding them for release into the wild in the future.  The Oakland Zoo does not breed them, but instead we are holding individuals for the breeding program and to help educate the public about the Panamanian Golden Frogs.  They are the national symbol of Panama.  So, to Panamanians, this would equate to the Bald Eagle being gone in the US.  They are one of the poster-frogs for the global amphibian crisis, which is being caused by climate change, the chytrid fungus, pollution, and other things that has caused one-third of the amphibian species in the world to decline and become endangered or extinct.

Panamanian Golden Frog

The frogs were packed into the cargo area of a Delta flight bound for Oakland and arrived the morning of October 8, 2010.  This frog shipment was the second shipment the Oakland Zoo has received in the past six years. They were born in December, 2009, so they are almost one year old. They are now off exhibit for a thirty day quarantine, which is part of the Oakland Zoo’s regulations with acquiring new animals. We monitor new animals and test them for diseases to ensure they do not have anything that can spread to our animal collection. Currently, we have nine Panamanian Golden frogs on exhibit in the RAD room, so when the new ones are added, we’ll have a total of twenty-nine.

I asked Adam if they make any ribbit sounds and I was told no, but they do make little wheezing sounds.  I tried to listen closely while they were being unpacked, but didn’t hear a peep. Adam also mentioned that these frogs are not big swimmers; they are more of a waters edge species, meaning they like to be around water but not necessarily in it. The black and gold patterns on their backs also change each year, so it’s hard to name and distinguish each frog. But, the Oakland Zoo weighs and photographs each frog every three months. As for food, these frogs feast on tiny crickets and fruit flies.

So, the next time you are at the Oakland Zoo, stop by the RAD Room and see if you can spot a Panamanian Golden Frog.