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

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Fran November 05, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Why don't you raise your admission prices? I don't go to the zoo, so why on earth should I pay for this? It's insulting.
Leah Hall November 05, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Amy, don't worry about insulting Fran, she gives as good as she gets. ;-)
Leah Hall November 05, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Loved this article and the myth-busting format! As they say, if it smells like a rat and looks like a rat, it just might be a rat. :-) Vote November 6
Karen November 05, 2012 at 06:27 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.
Ruth Malone November 05, 2012 at 07:19 PM
We disagree profoundly with Ms. Gotliffe, about Measure A1 and about the importance pf Knowland Park's natural resources and the need to protect them. We have worked tirelessly with many volunteers for years to encourage the public to discover and explore Knowland Park. Please visit our website (www.saveknowland.org ) where we have extensive information about the Park's wildlife, plants, and history, and about Measure A1 and why we oppose it. We created the website to inform the public since there was no other source of information about the park. We also have a Save Knowland Park Facebook page, including recent photos of native gray foxes in the area of the park where the zoo plans to bulldoze to build a 34000 sq foot visitor center, restaurant and gift shop. It is regrettable to see the zoo's reputation damaged by the kind of deceptive rhetoric zoo employees continue to deploy. The measure clearly allows funds to be used for this and any future expansions; the words are right there in the fine print for anyone to read, and what is in the measure itself is what is legally binding. There is no evidence in the zoo's financial statements that they have the funds to build the expansion. We will continue to advocate staunchly in defense of Knowland Park. Sincerely,Ruth Malone, Friends of Knowland Park Laura Baker, East Bay Chapter, California Native Plant Society Jim Hanson, California Native Grasslands Association
Mark Baker November 05, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I recognize that people feel passionately about these issues...but this is out of hand. I love the Oakland Zoo and I support it fully. I think it's an important educational resource. There are worse things in the world than having the Oakland Zoo expansion in your backyard. People need to get a grip.
Leah Hall November 05, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Indeed. Ironically, I believe that one of those /worse things/ is a less than vibrant regional zoo. I'd have a bit more empathy for all this opposition passion /if/ it demonstrated some knowledge and concern about this sustained and valued partnership between the City of Oakland, Alameda County government and regional parks, and the Zoological Society. Thriving zoos in the U.S. are not based upon ticket and drink sales alone. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, most well known zoos are supported partly by the subscriptions of members, partly by entrance fees, and partly by annual civic subsidies. Add to this simple inconvenient truth that severe economic challenge due to state budget cuts and the loss of redevelopment funds in January 2012. Knowing these things and the addtional open space information shared by Amy here certainly makes me question the objectivity of Rose Knowland and the small band of cohorts and environmental groups aligned with Save Knowland/Friends of Knowland. My vote "Yes" is partly a protest vote against the growing farce that is "Save Knowland."
Tyler November 05, 2012 at 08:04 PM
What we need to get a grip on is this con-job piece of legislation. The zoo execs have been saying that it 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.
Leah Hall November 05, 2012 at 08:42 PM
An example of Save Knowland's "smoke and mirrors" can be found on wikipedia. Talk about Alice's Wonderland and beyond the Looking Glass. :) I see lots of furry, fuzzy, scaled, prickly, stinky, ring tailed, striped, small, large creatures and, God forbid, public-private partnerships. Oh my! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakland_Zoo
Fran November 05, 2012 at 09:33 PM
That's the thing...when we start closing public schools, it will be because of big bad Wall Street, or not enough parental involvement, etc. Of course it will never be the fault of our "leaders" who promote this type of garbage legislation. This measure typifies why California is going down the tubes. It's nonsense. Luckily it needs 2/3 approval, and by and large I have a lot of faith in Alameda County voters, who seem to do their research. Also, Tyler or Ruth, since you seem to be very familiar with the language of the measure, am I correct in assuming Section 2.30.070. Amendment., is to mean bonds may be issued as needed. If so, who or what will be the backing for these? Zoo revenues, the Alameda County General fund, or what?
donald mitchell November 05, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Too bad Amy is not telling you the whole truth and is merely skewing it to support her own persoanl position and her job. My suggestion? Ignore all you've read here and read well respected Oakland Tribune columnist Ms. Tammerlin Drummond's piece in yesterday's Trib. (http://www.insidebayarea.com/breaking-news/ci_21915737/tammerlin-drummond-measure-a1-read-fine-print-and) for a simple and quick review of the truth. Don Mitchell Sequoyah Hills/Oak Knoll Neighborhood Association
Ruth Malone November 05, 2012 at 11:44 PM
That Amendment section at the very end of the fine print is very interesting, and the answer, as is true for so much about the finances of the expansion project and the zoo itself, is that we don't know. Contrary to claims made by the zoo's PR guy on another of a flurry of posts by employees, it isn't true that "only you, the voters" can amend the measure. The section specifically says that the Board of Supervisors can amend it to help the zoo "secure long-term financing." We interpret this to mean that in whatever form, the Supes could give the zoo an "advance" on years of tax money ahead of the tax receipts so they would have more all at once--something they would only need if they planned to use the funds to build out the expansion project. But maybe there is another reason the Board of Supervisors anticipates needing to amend the measure. We simply don't know the answer.
Tyler November 06, 2012 at 12:54 AM
It seems the folks at the Oakland Tribune can't find their way through the smoke and mirrors, either: http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_21897206/oakland-tribune-editorial-no-measures-a1-and-u?IADID=Search-www.insidebayarea.com-www.insidebayarea.com
donald mitchell November 06, 2012 at 01:13 AM
Exactly, Tyler. Thanks for reading an unbiased piece from the Oakland Trib which otherwise would love to support something like this. Interesting that both the East Bay Express and Berkeley Daily Planet also are adamantly against this rip-off of taxpayers and abuse of our zoo animals.
Beth Wurzburg November 06, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Hi Amy, I’m glad to see that the zoo has a conservation director. I was starting to get worried after reading about the obviously talented people on the Zoo’s Board of Directors (bankers, real estate developers, venture capitalists, corporate officers) whom I would trust to develop a luxury hotel/condo/restaurant. I just can’t figure out what they’re doing on a Zoo Board. I guess I was expecting more of a Sierra Club-type leadership. Conservation begins at home. I have to question a zoo that site a building on rare maritime chaparral when it has other options. The zoo hasn’t obtained the necessary State or Federal permits, and the State even suggested that the zoo move the building next to the zoo or within the current footprint to prevent damage to the habitat. Most telling is the zoo’s refusal to sign a conservation easement to protect the remainder of the park from expansion. Why wouldn’t they do that, if they didn’t have plans to expand even further beyond these 54 acres? The ‘democratic’ process you describe for the approval of the expansion didn’t involve asking voters if it was OK to take away 54 acres of their parkland. It does seem to include asking them to pay for basic zoo services (care and feeding of animals) that I believe are at the core of a zoo’s responsibilities.
Fran November 06, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Don't hold your breath waiting for a response from Amy. She has yet to answer my inquiry from 7 o'clock this morning. They have no interest in having a real debate about this measure, they know they would lose.
Beth Wurzburg November 06, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Hi Fran, to be fair to Amy, she did respond to a similar letter I wrote in the Dublin Patch. I don't hold her responsible for the zoo director's plans. I do wish she understood more about the value of Knowland Park as it is now, both as important wildlife habitat and as public open space - two rare things these days.
Leah Hall November 06, 2012 at 02:52 AM
How quaint, Fran. A "real debate" on an unmoderated online chat forum where all "opinions" are weighted as equally valid. Do you seriously buy the smelly old fish you are trying so desparately to peddle? Reminds me of my favorite social media correspondent on SNL http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/weekend-update-kourtney-barnes/1422731/
David November 06, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Ahh, the classic retort of Animal Farm. Some are more equal than others, right Leah?
Leah Hall November 06, 2012 at 05:31 AM
Speaking of smelly fish.... Hey David, how are the presidential polls looking to you this evening? This should be good. :)
Fran November 06, 2012 at 06:18 AM
My question was perfectly legitimate. Why can't they raise the admission price? It's a very simple question that I'm sure has been mulled by the board before. They are the desperate ones, as evidenced by their last minute propaganda blitz.
Leah Hall November 06, 2012 at 07:03 AM
Just stating the perfectly obvious here: They can raise the admissions price - pushing away more families who don't have the ability to pay. That wouldn't seem to align with their mission, don't you agree? The zoo is a public-private partnership with a public purpose: "The Mission of the Oakland Zoo is to inspire respect for and stewardship of the natural world while providing a quality visitor experience." -mission statement "Docents and Volunteers work with the Conservation and Education Department and it is their mission to inspire compassion for and conservation of all living things. The Docents and Volunteers work with staff to impart knowledge, serve as mentors, and create opportunities for people to be active learners." (and, I will add, keep the admissions costs down) --Volunteer Match
David November 06, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Not only are some opinions more equal than others, but you prefer to call a victory before the vote. Why don't you wait for a few hours. I have a feeling you'll be disappointed.
David November 06, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Yes, Leah, so they prefer to socialize the costs rather than charge people who actually use the zoo. How is that any different from Obama giving away tax dollars to his banker friends? The zoo is taking money from everyone to benefit a few Zoo-goers and, of course, the Zoo bureaucracy.
Leah Hall November 06, 2012 at 04:46 PM
David, that is one of the lies being spread by the leadership of Save Knowland - that this measure socializes the zoo. As a point of fact, the Oakland Zoological Society and Oakland/East Bay Regional Parks have had a public private partnership for over 50 years. For example Jan 2012 - 40% of funds to the zoo thru Oakland's former redevelopment agency were cut, along with Fairlyland, the Youth Symphony, The Jack London Aquatic Center and other community venues aimed at serving low-income neighborhoods. On the other hand, meet the Oakland Zoo's newest rescue animal, Adolf Tiddler! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2130040/George-goldfish-Hitler-moustache-Youve-seen-cat-house-meet-Adolf-Tiddler.html "Oakland budget cuts hit zoo, Children's Fairyland" - 01/2012 http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Oakland-budget-cuts-hit-zoo-Children-s-Fairyland-2681757.php
David November 06, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Leah, again, you're operating from the false premise that money is somehow not fungible. Again, if your mortgage payments are $24,000/year, and you make $100k, does it matter if I give you a $24k raise and tell you have to "earmark" for housing or if I just give you a $24k raise? If you cannot answer that question correctly, you have no business voting.
Leah Hall November 06, 2012 at 05:05 PM
I am operating from the practical point of view that opponents of A1 should be informed about what they say, especially the leaders of "Save Knowland/Friends of Knowland." Informed speakers inspire confidence and credibility. Double speak and lies do not. Merely some practical advise. You're welcome, opponents!


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