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January 2, 2018 > Its all happening at the zoo

Its all happening at the zoo

By David R. Newman

Nestled in the hills above Oakland, at the base of Knowland Park, lies the Oakland Zoo, an extraordinary place filled with natural wonders. A place where elephants roam freely across an African Savanna. Where white-handed gibbons swing gracefully around a lush, tropical island, and American alligators bask side by side with intrepid turtles.

Home to over 700 native and exotic animals, the Oakland Zoo was established in 1922 by naturalist Henry A. Snow. After several site changes, the zoo landed where it is today, on approximately 50 acres of gently rolling terrain. And in 2018, the zoo will double in size to over 100 acres with the opening of a new expansion called the California Trail.

This new area is designed like a wild animal park, with walking paths meandering by expansive animal habitats housing species indigenous to California: grizzly bears, black bears, gray wolves, mountain lions, jaguars, bald eagles, American bison, and California condors.

While visitors need to wait until June to see these amazing creatures, they can hop on the newly opened gondola ride right now, which will whisk them up the steep terrain behind the zoo to the new site. At the top is a restaurant called the Landing Cafˇ, also currently open, where guests can dine on healthy meals while experiencing an amazing view of the Bay and beyond.

This is just one of the innovative new programs instituted by Joel J. Parrott, a veterinarian who became the executive director of the zoo in 1985. He is also president of the East Bay Zoological Society (EBZS), founded in 1936 by Henry A. SnowÕs son, Sidney, and has been managing the zoo as a non-profit since 1982.

In the 1980s, the Oakland Zoo was declared one of the 10 worst zoos in the nation by the Humane Society of the United States. Now it is considered one of the 10 best, with programs that have revolutionized the way zoos are run. Prime among these is their approach to elephant care, pioneering a gentler alternative to traditional methods. In 2014, Oakland became the second big city in the country (after Los Angeles) to ban the use of bullhooks (sharp metal weapons that resemble fireplace pokers, commonly used in circuses to manage elephants).

According to Felicia Walker, Program Director of Education Training and Animal Ambassador Collection, Using a bullhook on an elephant is a dominating type of management, so theyÕre afraid of the human. At the Oakland Zoo, weÕre very adamant about animal welfare. Weve instituted protective contact, where animals and humans have a space barrier or a physical barrier, so the animals have a choice if they want to participate in the training or not.

The Oakland Zoo also funds anti-poaching programs in Africa and has fought for legislation to ban ivory sales. Their expansive six-acre elephant enclosure is one of the largest in the nation. This focus on animal rights sees them accepting many rescue animals, including their four female tigers, sisters, who had been privately owned. Says Walker, ÒThere are more tigers in the U.S. as pets than there are in the wild.Ó

In 2012, the Oakland Zoo celebrated the grand opening of its 17,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art veterinary hospital, the largest wild animal veterinary facility in Northern California. The Oakland Zoo Biodiversity Center opened in 2013, and the Condor Recovery Center opened in 2014, all furthering the zoos mission of conservation.

Another project initiated by Parrott is the Wayne and Gladys Valley ChildrenÕs Zoo, a three-acre area that opened in 2005, which has been a huge hit with youngsters and parents alike. It is here where little ones can experience some of our planetÕs smaller critters, including insects in the Bug Room, and slimier beasts in the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Room.

Educating the public is at the heart of the zoos mission. To help enable this, a newly renovated Education Center opened in 1999. This is where Walker and her team of docents, team volunteers, and staff organize outreach activities. They provide classes, workshops, summer camps, birthday parties, tours, and more, for families and schools.

One of the more popular programs is the ZooMobile, which brings the zoo to you, whether youÕre at home, in a classroom, a library, a senior center, or at a festival or science fair. The Education Center has a special room for their ZooMobile critters, whose only public appearance is outside the zoo.

Tri-City Voice will be sponsoring ZooMobile visits to local libraries from January to March 2018 with the theme: Amazing Adaptations of Animals and Habitats. Come see some amazing animals, including snakes and parrots, and listen to education specialists talk about our furry, and not so furry, friends.

The ZooMobileÕs first stop will be at the Castro Valley and San Lorenzo libraries on Thursday, January 11, followed by Newark Library on Saturday, January 20. Visits will also be made in February and March at Fremont (Feb 3, March 18), Hayward (March 14, 16), Milpitas (February 18), San Leandro (March 30), and Union City (February 10). Contact libraries directly for more information and reservation requirements; visit,,, and for branches and phone numbers.

To learn more about the Oakland Zoo, visit

Tri-City Voice/ Oakland ZooMobile Visits:

Thursday, Jan 11
11 a.m.
Castro Valley Library
3600 Norbridge Ave, Castro Valley
(510) 667-7900
TTY 888-663-0660

Thursday, Jan 11
4 p.m.
San Lorenzo Library
395 Paseo Grande, San Lorenzo
(510) 284-0640
TTY 888-663-0660

Saturday, Jan 20
1 p.m.
Newark Library
6300 Civic Terrace Ave, Newark
(510) 284-0675
TTY 888-663-0660

Saturday, Feb 3
2 p.m.
Fremont Centerville Branch
3801 Nicolet Ave.
Fremont, CA 94536
TTY 888-663-0660

Saturday, Feb 10
1 p.m.
Union City Library
34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd.
Union City, CA 94587
(510) 745-1464
TTY 888-663-0660

Thursday, Feb 15
3 p.m. & 4 p.m.
Milpitas Library
160 North Main Street
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 262-1171

Saturday, Mar 3
1 p.m. & 3 p.m.
Fremont Main Library
2400 Stevenson Blvd
Fremont, CA 94538
TTY 888-663-0660

Wednesday, Mar 14
1:30 p.m.
Hayward Weekes Branch
27300 Patrick Ave
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 782-2155

Friday, Mar 16
3:30 p.m.
Hayward Weekes Branch
27300 Patrick Ave
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 782-2155

Friday, March 30
1 p.m.
San Leandro
300 Estudillo Avenue
San Leandro, CA 94577
(510) 577-3971

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