Earth Day at the Oakland Zoo: New and Improved Greenwashing?

Everyone is welcomed (well, almost everyone) to the Oakland Zoo for its Earth Day,April 14. The theme this year is “Action for Animals”. Local environmental organizations have been invited for a fee of $30 to set up a table and bring informational materials about what they do to protect the environment. It is suggested that groups may want to bring materials to conduct letter-writing campaigns to further their cause. The event is described on the zoo’s website:

“We share this world with animals and all of our actions impact their well-being and their future. This year’s Earth Day event invites Zoo visitors to learn about and choose actions that help the wonderful species we live with, from tigers in Asia to birds in our own backyard.”

It's ok to talk about saving Asian tigers at the Zoo's Earth Day. Photo by Eric Molina.

The East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society was invited to participate–it has done so in previous Earth Days at the zoo. EBCNPS filled out the entry form as usual. However, the zoo’s Director of Strategic Initiatives called to say that he objected to our planned exhibit, which would illustrate the animals that now live in Knowland Park, and their habitats, and how the zoo expansion would affect them.

It’s no secret that the East Bay Chapter of CNPS, along with Friends of Knowland Park, is at odds with the zoo over its planned expansion into Knowland Park. The reason is that EBCNPS wants to preserve the park and the zoo wants to build a development in the park. It’s no secret that these organizations have sued the City and zoo over this plan, which would result in loss of precious wildlife habitat and rare plant communities.

It's not ok to talk about saving California Thrashers in Knowland Park at the Zoo's Earth Day. Photo by Robert Stokstad.

When the Director of Strategic Initiatives from the zoo called to discuss the display materials EBCNPS wanted to use, he said that the zoo would be “uncomfortable” with any mention of the lawsuit. Ok, then, how about anything related to animals in Knowland Park? Nope. How about just Knowland Park? Nope.

This may seem logical to those who think there’s nothing wrong with barring critics from an event. But it may also seem contradictory to those who know that the zoo is the official “steward” of Knowland Park, ostensibly responsible for the care and management of all its resources. To continue to hide those resources from the public while claiming to be all about conservation “in our own backyard” shows that the zoo cares more about conservation in exotic places far away than about conservation right here at home.

Those who inquire further won’t find a word about Knowland Park on the zoo’s website, except the place where it talks about how the zoo is “nestled in the hills of Knowland Park” and, under the History and Future Planning, a heavily doctored version of the history of the zoo and its management relationship with Knowland Park appears without a word about its Master Plan, its history of proposed plans to develop into the park, etc.

You certainly won’t learn that mountain lions, whipsnakes, foxes, coyotes, birds of all kinds, and rare plant communities inhabit the park or that the site where the zoo intends to build its 34000 square foot, 3 story visitor center, gift shop, restaurant and offices is their prime habitat.

You won’t find Knowland Park listed on Oakland’s Park and Recreation’s website, although it’s the city’s largest park. And you won’t see a single sign that shows you how to enter the park because there isn’t any signage for the park itself.

The zoo’s commitment to conservation doesn’t appear to extend to the native animals living in its back yard now.

Watch this space for more on what you and your kids won’t learn about Knowland Park on Earth Day at the Zoo.

Laura Baker is an environmental activist and former Conservation Chair of the California Native Plant Society. Growing up in Missouri, she learned that the cure for most ills rests in spending time out in nature.  She wishes for every child to have the experience of wholeness that nature provides. Laura holds an M.A. in Ecology and Systematic Biology.

Laura’s Knowlander blog is dedicated to building an online library of the natural history of Knowland Park so that the public may enjoy the park for the natural heritage treasure that it is.  Knowing the land is a never ending process of inquiry  open to all. We welcome your comments, contributions, and photos.

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4 Responses to Earth Day at the Oakland Zoo: New and Improved Greenwashing?

  1. Janetgawthrop47 March 28, 2012 at 11:21 pm #


    It’s time we all wrote to the City of Oakland to save life in our own backyard, including whipsnakes.

    Felis concolor

  2. Gabriele Lorf-Allen March 29, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    In the history of modern civilizations often times education was only offered within the framework of special interest of governments or certain systems. Greed and the desire for control and power and also vanity are at the root of such systems and the reason for selective education. Human psychology does not change. What changes are the time and circumstances in which the exhibition of the same old undifferentiated behavioral patterns appear as something different. It is sad that at time where more and more people awaken to their profound connection with this planet, governments, public agencies and corporations remain stuck in political battles, which continue to deepen the disconnect between humans and the natural world. In the case of the Zoo’s leadership there is a troubling incongruity between their expressed intentions and their actions. BTW the “Zoo” not only has an interest in keeping their visitors uninformed, they also feed misleading information about Knowland Park to their employees, such as that the park belongs to the Zoo. It’s a sad story and I am thankful to everyone who remains dedicated to protect the integrity of Knowland Park.

  3. Leviguy59 April 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    I do not see another way of being added to the email list, so please add Stan Lore
    Thank you.


  1. The “Galapagos Islands” of the East Bay HillsWhat you won’t learn at the Oakland Zoo’s Earth Day, #1 | Love Oakland, Save Knowland! - April 12, 2012

    […] welcome to bring materials about Knowland Park’s plants and animals to the Zoo’s Earth Day (see , we decided to share here some of what we might have presented. This is the first in a series on […]

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