From mountain lions to California condors, the Oakland Zoo celebrates 100 years


When the zoo took her in, she was seriously ill. “She was literally skin and bones,” said the zoo’s vice president of veterinary services, Dr. Alex Herman.

Herman and his team provide preventative, emergency, reproductive and geriatric care to all zoo animals, focusing not only on their medical needs, but also on the emotional and social well-being of the animal. His team also provides care for many wild animals rescued in California, like Rose.

A photo of Rose, the puma rescued from her first examination at the Oakland Zoo. (Oakland Zoo)

Rose is the 18th orphaned mountain lion to be cared for at the Oakland Zoo. When she arrived, Rose was anemic, meaning she had a very low red blood cell count. So Herman gave Rose a blood transfusion, using the blood of one of the zoo’s healthiest pumas: Silverado.

“We like the red blood cell count to be between 30 and 40 percent. She was at 9 percent, which is not consistent with life,” Herman said. But “she jumped to 23, and went back up from there after the transfusion.”

While saving her life by giving her intensive care was the priority of the veterinary team, after that “we really needed to work on her well-being and her well-being, so that she could live with humans. comfortably,” Herman said. Because Rose is still too young to return to the wild without a mother, Herman and his team’s current focus is to ensure that she is less afraid to interact with people and can grow to see it as a positive experience.

“At some point we would like to develop a rewilding system so that we can return these baby mountain lions to the wild,” Herman said.

Dr. Alex Herman, Vice President of Veterinary Services at the Oakland Zoo, and his team examine Rose, the rescued puma.
Dr. Alex Herman, Vice President of Veterinary Services at the Oakland Zoo, and his team examine Rose, the rescued puma. (Courtesy of Oakland Zoo)

The last mountain lion saved was discovered in a classroom at Pescadero High School on Wednesday and, like Rose, was sent to the Oakland Zoo for health evaluations. Although a little older than Rose, this puma is still too young to be able to survive on its own in the wild. (Follow Oakland Zoo’s updates on this cougar on Twitter.)

In California, these intelligent alpha predators are frequently hit by cars. Most mountain lion cubs who lose their mothers when they are less than a year and a half cannot survive on their own. “Adult cats don’t abandon a baby puma. Their parents wouldn’t if they weren’t killed,” Herman said.

Herman encourages the public to support all efforts to wildlife corridors being created to protect these animals. Learn more about the Oakland Zoo on mountain lion conservation efforts.

California Condor Release

The Oakland Zoo currently has two resident condors on its campus — and they’re there as part of the California Condor Recovery Program, in which the zoo is a key veterinary partner.

By the mid-1980s, there were only a few dozen condors left in the wild. Their population has crashed catastrophically due to dangers such as habitat loss, the use of DDT insecticide and the most important cause – lead toxicity. Condors end up consuming ammunition pellets when they eat the carcass of an animal that someone has hunted and left behind. Ammunition causes devastating lead poisoning.

A California condor sits in a tree at the Oakland Zoo on May 25, 2022.
A California condor sits in a tree at the Oakland Zoo on May 25, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

After bringing the last remaining condors into captivity, an alliance of zoos and other organizations began in 1986 a captive breeding program.

Under this program, these condors are tracked and checked for blood lead levels, and if they show signs of lead toxicity, they are treated with chelation – a process that removes lead from their bloodstream. . These efforts proved to be a success. There is now more than 500 California condors currently in the wild or in captivity. The Oakland Zoo says that since 2014 it’s cured and released 45 California condors into the wild.

On May 27, the third California Condor was released to the New Northern California Condor Restoration Program (NCCRP). The program is a collaborative effort between the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Yurok to restoring condors to Yurok ancestral territory and the Pacific Northwest. The California condor is sacred to the Yurok Tribe and their territory in the Redwood National Forest. The tribe has been working for years to secure a new release site in Northern California.

“This is the first condor release site that really examines not only the ecological impact of the disappearance of condors from the diverse ecosystem, but also the cultural impact of their disappearance,” Herman said.

You can support the protection of California condors by refraining from littering, picking up litter when out in the wild, and switching to lead-free bullets when hunting. You can also go condor watching and learn about these spectacular animals. Learn more about ways to help California condors.

Caring for Endangered Rabbits

Riparian Brush Rabbits – or as Herman calls them, “Ecosystem Gardeners” – do a lot for the native plants around the San Joaquin River, in addition to being a source of protein for alpha predators that are higher up. in the food chain.

Herman and his team vaccinated these endangered rabbits against rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV2).

“We are really happy to have had this two-year window of time to prepare these endangered rabbits for this, as the virus slowly spread to Northern California – but now it has been found in their area. “Herman said. “So hopefully they can weather the storm with the help of the vaccine that we tested and then really helped administer as well.”

Learn more about the Oakland Zoo how to support the conservation efforts of these cottontail rabbits.

Oakland Zoo at 100

The Oakland Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards of animal welfare for zoos and aquariums. And Nik Dehejia, president and CEO of the Oakland Zoo, says he’s also grateful for the zoo’s partnership with medical facilities at UC Davis and other locations, which allows the zoo to provide the best care possible for his animals.

“It’s this interdependence and connection that allows us to collectively succeed,” he said. “The future of animals and humans: it’s in our hands, so we have to do it together.”

Oakland Zoo CEO Nik Dehejia speaks with KQED reporter Sarah Khalida Mohamad at the Oakland Zoo on May 25, 2022.
Oakland Zoo CEO Nik Dehejia speaks with KQED reporter Sarah Mohamad at the Oakland Zoo on May 25, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Dehejia also focuses on Oakland Zoo’s outreach and education programs to raise awareness, take action, and become future stewards of the environment.

“Many of our visitors have not had the chance to come to the zoo [before]”, Dehejia said. “So we’re trying to expand that opportunity, to make the zoo accessible to everyone.” Learn more about the zoo’s school programs.

The zoo spends about $2 million a month to run its operations, and animal care is essential. The zoo serves a thousand meals a day, with some animals getting two or three meals a day, and then there are medications and diet plans to follow.

“So it’s a very complicated and complex operation to handle just from an animal care perspective,” Dehejia said. “It’s something we will never compromise on.”

As for the future, Dehejia says there are “many things we look forward to in the next hundred years.”

“Certainly, continuing to create a thriving environment for people to come and live here at the zoo. But [also] how we can help protect the land, protect our waters and give people continued hope,” Dehejia said.

Dr. Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services, sits outside the Oakland Zoo Animal Hospital on May 25, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

For Alex Herman, much of the Oakland Zoo’s work remains less visible to the public. “Some people aren’t aware of the real conservation work on the ground that we do,” she said.

“Not just saving individual animals like mountain lions, but field testing a vaccine that could save an endangered species like Riparian Brush rabbits,” Herman said. “And also a real commitment to community education.”

Herman hopes people will continue to appreciate these animals or, as she calls them, “charismatic demigods.”

“The world they inhabit is different from ours. And equally – if not more importantly – we need them so badly,” she said.


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