Posts Tagged ‘Zoo’

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!

What can make a ZooCamp teacher smile?

by | July 22nd, 2010

(While Sarah was busy getting camp up and running, one of our returning camp teachers offered to be a guest author.)

By Rebecca Stern, aka Vella

As a recent graduate from an elementary teaching credential program I can say Iʼve
seen my fair share of good and great schools and good and great programs. The Oaklandʼs ZooCamp is run like a great school with an exceptional amount of fun thrown into itʼs agenda. The strategy for camp is simple. Learn about animals, conservation, and our role in the environment, and have tons of fun.

As a third year returning teacher to the Oakland Zooʼs summer program I can say that working at the zoo has itʼs perks for even us teachers. Seeing the same animals so often provides opportunities to see the animals grow and change. From 2009 to 2010 alone the zoo has seen many fascinating changes. Among my favorites are the baboons fondness of their new exhibit, watching new animal introductions (such as the sunbear and chimpanzees) and oh, the babies! The most notable are the hornbill mother nesting in her exhibit while her mate brings her food and the baby squirrel monkey who rides on its motherʼs back.  Itʼs no wonder our zoo members visit time andtime again throughout the year.  If only Zoocamp was year-round!

What makes Oaklandʼs Zoocamp significantly different from other camps? Oaklandʼs Zoocamp is notable for many reasons. First, the focus isnʼt on “time-fillers” to keep the kids busy during the summer months. Each year we focus on a conservation project and teach the campers what they can do to help. We play games, sing songs, and create crafts that you can actually use. We explore and we work on developing a childʼs natural curiosity of the environment. Often itʼs as simple as letting a child pick a leaf or flower at the creek and letting them crush and smell it or lifting a rock to see what bugs are underneath. I am in awe of campers who listen intently about watershed problems and decide theyʼd like to spend time picking up trash around the zoo. Campers also go behind-the-scenes to learn how keepers care for the animals and much more.

What are some other things that make working the entire summer at the zoo so much fun? For one, I enjoy seeing my campers grow, sometimes several inches from one year to the next. I take pleasure in truly getting to know parents who love camp as much as I do. I also love meeting new campers who have not been to our camp before. They are enthralled by the activities and animal encounters that are unique to the program. I am fortunate to work for a Camp Director who fully supports my curriculum and craft ideas, among other things. In addition, I benefit from working with many different types of people with biology, zoology and education backgrounds. Ultimately, I love seeing
kids really enjoy learning without knowing thatʼs what theyʼre doing.

All together, ZooCamp is so much fun kids can’t wait to come back each summer…and neither can I!