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Letter to the Editor: Conservation Director at the Oakland Zoo Says Yes on Measure A-1

Why Amy Gotliffe wants you to vote yes on the Oakland Zoo Humane Animal Care/Education Protection Measure of Alameda County.

 

I'm Amy Gotliffe, the Conservation Director at the Oakland Zoo and long-time Alameda County resident. I am committed to the conservation of wildlife, a green planet, an environmentally aware citizenry and a thriving Alameda County. I wanted to share my thoughts on Yes on Measure A-1. Thanks for reading:)

Basics: Measure A1 is a parcel tax. One dollar per month for each parcel owner in Alameda (that's me) - with an exemption for seniors.The funds go to care for our animals, educational programs, on site and local conservation (that’s me), some visitor safety and to simply keeping the zoo an affordable place to visit.

A1 funds go to:

Animals: The Oakland Zoo has many beautiful animals, all of which are considered non-releasable (they cannot be released to the wild). Many of them come from very unfortunate and human-created situations. A few examples include four female tigers from a divorced couple who owned them in Texas, a female tiger from a circus, two African lions from a drug bust, a sun bear from a traffiking confiscation, an abused female African elephant, 5 research hyenas, and two ex-performing chimpanzees. I have not even begun to list the zoo's stories, rescues and acts of compassion. The Oakland Zoo is known for this throughout the zoo world. The Oakland Zoo takes these animals and gives them a FOREVER home. A home they can count on. We care for the sick, injured, emotionally or mentally handicapped, and geriatric – one reason why we need exceptional husbandry and veterinary care, as well as the best possible enclosures and night houses. Not to mention, our animals require more than 1000 meals per day. A1 funds go to care for these animals.

Animal Care: Our care is inspiring. Our enclosures wow every researcher and other zoo staff that visit: large exhibits with greenery, privacy and daily enrichment. Our keepers are insanely dedicated, willing to work here because of OUR culture of humaneness – instead of other zoos for more money. PETA gives our elephant program a thumbs-up. This is unheard of in any other zoo. A1 funds go to this incredibly humane care.Structures: The zoo has been on this site for 40 years. Systems need updating, including moats, filtration, night houses, etc. We raise funds for this through small campaigns to donors, and while we might have eventual success with the Elephant Barn or Giraffe Barn, we are challenged to get people excited to give money for our moats and other vital, but not "sexy" projects. A1 would go to animal care structure projects.

Education: We believe we have an obligation to these animals to connect our visitor, student or guest to their species and their conservation story. This is the way to inspire people to CHANGE their behavior and help our animals' wild counterparts.

Our docents created conservation messages for every species we have. Our educational classes reach as many children as we can – all receiving age-appropriate conservation messaging surrounding our animals. 30% of the classes we offer are free to underserved kids. These are through grants that run out. We want to get to every underserved kid in Alameda County – introduce them to these amazing animals and use that opportunity to connect them to their own habitats.

There are teens in our programs who are now going to college to be environmental lawyers, zoologists, vets, environmentalists because they went through our teen programs. Our Teen Wild Guide Program was just granted Group of the Month from Jane Goodall Institutes Roots & Shoots. We are serious about nature and wildlife education!

We cannot wait until the economy gets better to educate and inspire for change in our environmental behavior – we are on the brink of serious wildlife loss, as well as science education loss. A1 goes to these youth programs.

Conservation: Conservation is central to our mission. That is why they hired me as the Conservation Director. It is an honor to help organizations all over the world conserve wildlife, to be greeted with such warmth and GRATITUDE from Borneo to Uganda to Big Sur.

We also conserve local animals and habitats on-site. We work with Sonoma State University and the SF Zoo to gather the eggs of The Western Pond Turtle, California's only pond turtle - who is highly threatened due to invasive species (red-eared sliders). We raise the hatchlings and feed and care for these animals until they are big enough to compete with the invasives. Then, we release them back into the wild. This program is very successful.

We work with the Ventana Wildlife Society and the California condor. Condors get sick eating animals that have been killed by lead bullets. We set up an enclosure to hold sick birds and trained our vet staff to do the blood work that they need. We are excited to take our first sick bird this spring. We work with community volunteers to clean and restore the part of Arroyo Viejo Creek that runs through the zoo. A-1 goes to these on-site conservation programs.

Clarifying Myths:

Myth: "The Zoo will use funds to make offices high in the hills of Knowland Park."
Truth: The funds go to what was stated in the voter guide, which was written with integrity.
Measure A1 funds do not go to the California Trail project. By law, it will only go to the projects in the voter guide.

Myth: "The Zoo is not to be trusted with the money."
Truth: The zoo is 100% responsible with money. I have been there 12 years, managing a budget. Every penny is accounted for, every decision in-line with our mission and well thought out budget. We are a top rated non-profit on Charity Navigator. The funding from A1 will be monitored by an independent oversight committee consisting of community members from League of Woman Voters, a PTA member, a member of a conservation group, etc. They will account for every expenditure and ensure it goes to cover what the voters agreed upon.I have worked with Dr. Parrott for 12 years and he is a man of serious integrity and dedication to wildlife. I would NEVER work here if that was not the case.

Myth: The Zoo is building a theme park all over Knowland Park with giant offices.
Truth: The zoo designed The California Trail Project. Working with very green architects, Noll & Tam, and scientists, teachers, staff including myself, local community leaders and conservation organizations, this project aims to highlight the park, the bay, and the ecology of California.

My role is to help design connections to conservation action locally and inspire each visitor to connect with and take action for our own habitat. The buildings include an interpretive/education center and classrooms, not fancy administrative offices. Visitors enter via gondola, so we do not have to build a road. This project went through an exhaustive environmental review, including many public meetings. It was approved in 2011.

Myth: "If we vote Measure A1 down, the California Trail project will not happen."
Truth: This project will happen. It has nothing to do with Measure A1 at all. The project went through a democratic process a number of times and won the debates and lawsuits by Friends of Knowland Park each time. Money for the California Trail Project was raised for just that project by inspired donors. It would be unlawful to move funds to other areas.

Myth: "The zoo has tons of money already."
Truth: The Oakland Zoo is a non-profit organization. We operate on little budget compared to other zoos. 90% of our revenue is generated by the zoo. Only 10% currently comes from government/community funds. We rely on a nice day - where people come to the zoo and ride a ride and buy a drink. And we rely on donors and fundraising efforts. We have fought for a long time to never raise admission prices. However, we cannot have a gem of a zoo without funds -and it will come down to the community. If we do not have the community support that many zoos and other non-profits have, we will have to raise the price to visit.

Myth: "Knowland Park is a pristine wilderness area that the zoo wants to fence in and pour concrete on."
Truth: If you have visited this area, you will see that most native grasslands have already been destroyed. Neighbors walk their dogs here, leaving dog feces everywhere. French Broom and other invasive plants are the norm.

The California Trail project will be in 56 acres of the nearly 500 acre park. The buildings will be environmentally designed. We will be working with environmental organizations and academic institutions to restore the area. The fencing is wildlife friendly, with appropriate heights, holes and wildlife corridors, keeping out dogs only.

More truth: It is US, the zoo, who is doing the work to care for Knowland Park already. We keep the local creek restored and healthy, we plant for pollinating wildlife in vibrant gardens and plant for local animals everywhere on the zoo grounds. We remove the broom tirelessly. The zoo grounds are home to skunks, deer, bob cat, wild turkeys, fox and more. Our work on the habitat of Knowland Park helps these animals thrive. We are looking forward to doing more.

Zoos: I come from an ecology/animal welfare/environmental background. I was not a zoo person. Mainly, because I knew nothing about modern zoos and I made a misinformed judgment. Zoos are amazing places to conserve animals, raise funds for conservation in the wild and inspire thousands of people to care and take action.

The Oakland Zoo is famous for our humane treatment of animals and the care we give each one. We are respected by long lists of environmental and wildlife organizations. I am proud of where I work and the work I do.

The Opposition: Opposition to A1 was started by a small group of people who live behind the zoo. They like their view and walking their dogs on the trail. They do not like other people to walk there and have actively approached non-neighbors. They started the group Friends of Knowland Park and began fighting against the zoos work on the California Trail project long ago.

Their campaign is based on misinformation, manipulative lies, and zero science. They have no qualms about using well-meaning environmental organizations to push their agenda. They use bullying tactics. At the Lake Merritt Farmers Market, two Save Knowland Park men my father's age spent much of their 4 hours bullying me personally, egging me on with verbal pushing, teasing and crass remarks. Each time I tried to speak to someone, one of them busted in. The have defaced our campaign signs and have spiked trees by nailing their signs up high. These are the people behind all of the opposition.•

Supporters of A1: There is a long list, but I am listing those that I work with, who know us very, very well: Laura Maloney, Chief Operating Officer, Humane Society of the United States, Jim Maddy, President/CEO, National Association of Zoos and Aquariums, East Bay Regional Park District, Kelly Sorenson, Executive Director, Ventana Wildlife Society, Zara McDonald, Founder and Executive Director, Felidae Conservation Fund/Bay Area Puma Project, Pat Derby, Co-Director, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Cynthia Moss, Director, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Animals Asia, Africa Matters, Brian Pope, Director, Lubee Bat Conservancy, Camilla Fox, Founder and Executive Director, Project Coyote, Charles Knowles, Executive Director, Wildlife Conservation Network, Cindy Spring, Director, Close to Home, Colum Muccio, Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association (ARCAS), Cynthia Ong, CEO, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), Dirk Kloss, CEO, Red Panda Network, Eric Kowalczyk, U.S. Representative for the Hornbill Research Foundation, Eric Ronay, President, EcoCell, Jarrod Willis, Biologist, California Academy of Sciences, Joel Makower, Chairman, GreenBiz Group, Jon Hoech, Director of Husbandry Operations, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Megan Isadore, Co-Founder and Director of Outreach & Education, The River Otter Ecology Project, Elizabeth Young, Executive Director, MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue, Fred Babweteera, Director, Budongo Conservation Field Station, Steve Ross, PhD, Director, Lester Fisher Center for the Study & Conservation of Apes, Michael Starkey, Save the Frogs Advisory Committee Chairman, Julie Sherman, Executive Director, Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), Chris DeAngelo, Associate Curator of Marine Mammals, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Richard Zimmerman, Executive Director, Orangutan Outreach, Richard Wells, Forest Conservancy, Rosamira Guillen, Executive Director, Fundacion Proyecto Titi ("Project Tamarin")

Thanks for reading until the end - and I hope to see you at the zoo, or a creek restoration day.

Its Your Zoo
www.itsyourzoo.org

Karen November 05, 2012 at 06:26 PM
You make too many incorrect statements to respond to all of them here, but there is an overarching consistency: Your use of Orwellian Newspeak to argue your points. You preach global conservation, yet support destruction of acres of wildlife habitat at home. Your local California Trails “conservation” project would destroy the very habitat it features. Will the displaced mountain lions end up caged, getting “humane animal care” from the zoo? Will your education programs mention the loss of habitat caused by the zoo itself? You say Knowland Park isn't cared for, but it's zoo management's obligation to provide that care. You want credit for creek restoration, but take no responsibility for neglecting the rest of the park. With zoo management so focused on a $72 million expansion project that it fails to maintain funds for basic animal care and maintenance of facilities, there is no reason to trust it with an irrevocable blank check for millions of dollars over 25 years. I agree that Measure A1 funds can only be used for what it specifies, but that's the problem: It explicitly, carefully says that A1 funds can be used for anything the zoo wants. Ironically, it isn't those opposing A1 but the zoo board that is the “small group of people” using its political and monetary muscle to get what it wants. Perhaps it is surprising to you that people from all over Alameda County care about preserving the ever-dwindling public open space habitats in our communities.
Laurie November 05, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Fabulous letter! As I told a volunteer at the BART station this morning, this proposal is the only one I care about in this election!
Donald Mitchell November 05, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Read columnist Ms. Drummond's very well researched piece in Sunday's Oakland Tribune for the truth behind measure A1.
Jason Discher November 06, 2012 at 12:02 AM
No, thanks. You can have my money when I visit the zoo. Besides, if it takes $1 from every parcel in the county, every month, something is wrong. That's approximately $450,000 a month! All this while you have a multi-million dollar expansion project in the works? Sorry, but my money could be better put to work elsewhere in the county.
Ruth Malone November 06, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Gotliffe's piece contains untruths regarding 1) our activities at a farmer's market where both the zoo (supporting A1) and we (opposing) were speaking with the public, 2) about our attitude toward park visitors, and 3) about the park and its resources. At no time did we “bully” Ms. Gotliffe.In fact, we spoke about our positions and acknowledged that we would have to agree to disagree. We do indeed disagree profoundly, about Measure A1 and about the importance of the natural resources of Knowland Park and the need to protect them. We have deep differences in what we consider conservation. We have worked tirelessly with many volunteers for years to encourage the public to discover Knowland Park. Please visit our website (www.saveknowland.org )which features information about the remarkable natural resources of Knowland Park and our views on Measure A1. It is regrettable when politics leads to personal attacks. Recently the Oakland Zoo CEO sent a hitpiece mailer to Knowland Park neighbors accusing two of us of misrepresentations about Measure A1. No evidence was offered. We do not believe that character assassination is a useful vehicle for discussing our many differences. We will continue to campaign vigorously against a ballot measure that is highly flawed, and to advocate staunchly in defense of Knowland Park. Ruth Malone, Friends of Knowland Park; Laura Baker, East Bay Chapter, California Native Plant Society; Jim Hanson, California Native Grasslands Association
Tyler November 06, 2012 at 01:01 AM
The zoo execs have been saying that this con-job piece of legislation is something that it clearly isn't, if you actually read it. This is a land grab by a board full of real estate developers, real estate lawyers, biz-dev hotshots 'wealth managers' and corporate sponsors of the zoo. It's full of back room political deals and now we've got the conservation director telling us that there are 'myths' out there that are clearly provided for in the language of the bill. I do support the zoo, but I don't support their taking over a public park with my tax money. There are no constraints as to what they can do once they've got this bill in place for the next 25 years. It's a bad development, bad tax policy and bad for us to give in to this kind of political smoke and mirrors. Maybe Amy will take us all to Africa and Borneo on her 'safaris' when we close the public schools in the zoo's neighborhood and lay off the police.
Graciela Tiscareno-Sato November 06, 2012 at 04:05 AM
My kindergarten-aged son now calls it "The Jerk Zoo" because of a nasty experience we had with your gate person below, the old-should-have-retired-decades-ago security guard and person at the window too lazy to look up our membership the day I decided to spontaneously visit the zoo and didn't have my card which was in another purse. I got the nastiness on video; maybe I'll use it one day to show how a mommy and her son, members for years, were treated one sad day. We'll be voting NO.

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