More Acres For Zoo Or Not

There are some tough choices ahead for Knowland Park.  The Oakland Zoo leadership needs more space and would like to expand their acreage in the park.  Yet many locals, including the Friends of Knowland Park, want to ensure that undeveloped parkland remains untouched.

Knowland Pro-Development

Zoo administrators want room to grow, period.  They have an educational mission to accomplish, and want to improve their offerings to more than a half-million visitors annually.  One notable plan includes new exhibits featuring California species on their native turf, putting creatures who might (theoretically) run free behind fences.

In the map below, you see the expansion would add the orange outlined area to the current green area – another 40 acres or so.  Within the perimeter fence, you would find one veterinary hospital, the aforementioned California exhibits, a new service road and plenty of open space.

Knowland Anti-Development

What’s at issue in developing this area?  Well, the City of Oakland’s General Plan says, “the substantial portion of Knowland Park above the zoo and picnic grounds…is to remain in its natural state.”  This open space was supposed to stay completely undeveloped as a green corridor, leading to the East Bay Regional Parks next door.

Recently, the Chronicle published an urban outings report on hiking in the park.  We decided to take a quick trip this afternoon, and can confirm that it’s a little muddy and also dressed in green, spring finery now.  It’s nicer than we remembered.

Two Sides Meet

At this point, the train is revving up but hasn’t left the metaphorical station.  There have been all kinds of reviews and discussions taking place during the past year.

Next up?  The Oakland Zoo is holding a meeting this Thursday, from 6:30-8:30pm at the Zoo’s Marian Zimmer Auditorium (map), to obtain public comments and proceed forward.

More info:  Please read latest plans from the Oakland Zoo, as well as archived maps and documents from the Friends of Knowland Park.  To reach the Zoo, email  To reach the Friends, email

Donate Your Trees To The Elephants

We just noticed the Oakland Zoo is asking for dead tree donations, because zookeepers need to feed the elephants and other animals living there.  Now that we’re cleaning up from the storms, there’s plenty to share.  How can you resist?

The zoo specifically requests browse, or the tree branches that their beasts consume.  According to John Briggs, browse/elephant keeper, the zoo animals prefer five to eight feet long branches – and need a lot of fuel.

  • Here’s an official list of acceptable, delicious trees:  Acacia, Alder, Almond, Apple, Bamboo-Green, Birch, Bird of Paradise, Blackberry, Carob, Cotoneaster, Deciduous fruit trees, Elm (Ulmus), Eugenia, Hibiscus, Oak, Palm Frond-Green, Poplar, Plum, Roses, Maple-Silver, Maple-Sugar, Mulberry, Sweetgum (Liquidambar), Thistle, and Willow (Salix).
  • And here’s an official list of unacceptable, toxic trees:  Conifers, Eucalyptus, Elderberry, California Bay, Horsechestnut, Laurel, Olive, Maple-Red, Myrtle, Pepperwood, Pittosporum, Rhododendron, Walnut, Pear, Juniper.

Our zoo’s been on an endless and insatiable hunt for animal food.  For years, they were harvesting trees at the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, but neglected to get required permits when the hospital closed.  In addition, some trees were illegally felled at the nearby King Estates Open Space.

Earlier this month, Zoo Director Joel Parrott offered his mea culpas and apologized for running afoul.   Since that’s water under the bridge, we should focus on helping the special creatures that roam across the Oakland Hills.  Elephants like Osh, Dunda, Lisa and Donna, as well as all the other zoo residents, need some decent meals and snacks!

To donate:  Please reach the Zoo’s John Briggs ( or 510-632-9525, ext. 266)  or Jeff Kinzley ( or 510-632-9525, ext. 225).  They can sometimes pick up trees but request drop-offs at the zoo.

Last Minute Holiday Lights

2011 Lights Update:  These displays are all-aglow now.  Zoolights run through January 1st and prices are $7.50/adult and $5.50/kid, and members receive a $1 discount.  The  Mormon Temple is free as usual, shining through the New Year.


After Christmas passes, it’s not too late to check out the last minute holiday lights – but it does take more than just driving by and noticing them.  You do have to stop, take a breath and walk around a bit.

The Zoo: First check out Zoolights, which is filled with animal and nature scenes honoring the Oakland Zoo’s residents.  As a preview, look at this beautiful display with elephants wandering around the place.

Luckily the Zoo (map) runs this show through January 4th.  It opens at 5:30 pm all week, and closes at 9:00 pm  (Mon-Thur) or 9:30 pm (Fri-Sun).  It costs $7.50/adult and $6.50/kids, and parking is free.


Oakland Zoolights - 2008

The Temple: Another pit-stop should be the Mormon Temple in Oakland, just a five-minute drive down Highway 13 (map).  While this YouTube video is sort of shaky, you see the huge palm-trees and other lights on a very grand scale.  Regardless of your own religion or politics, this amazing display is worth seeing in person.

The Streets: You can’t go wrong just wandering Montclair streets, with all the lights hidden in nooks and crannies.  Generally the decorations are fairly understated but even a few strings of outdoor lights – on fences, garages, a few trees, and houses – make things feel nice and festive.

If you haven’t scoped your own block or two, then bundle up and wander around tomorrow evening.  For the more ambitious, try this great walking map, so you can plan your route beforehand.  It’s all pretty ephemeral, but we have time to slow down and appreciate things throught the holiday season.

Famous Giraffe Artist Gets 15 Minutes

Oakland Zoo’s artist-in-residence, Benghazi, will finally get his 15 minutes of fame.  He painted this modern masterpiece, which will be auctioned tomorrow.

Benghazi painted the abstract work while at the zoo earlier this year, by holding paintbrushes in his mouth.  Too bad we can’t hear what inspired the artist, but these images evoke the Oakland sky and hills in the springtime.

The auction is sponsored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), so the Oakland giraffe’s work will be featured nationally.  This commission will be auctioned along with 60 other animal artworks – and we’re so proud.

The live bidding starts promptly at 2pm PST, with previews an hour earlier.  If you are not available, then it’s possible to browse the art and place a proxy bid beforehand.