It was great news for all of us that the Oakland Zoo received $1 million from the San Francisco Foundation.

It is the perfect opportunity for the zoo's leadership, including President and CEO Joel Parrott, to invest in providing multilingual signage so that families who are raising multilingual children can teach them about animals, conservation, and the environment in their home language, and so that others can also be exposed to the diversity of our communities -- and even learn a little Spanish or Cantonese while enjoying a visit to the zoo.

I have been zoo member for the past three years, and my family visits often. Despite our reservations about holding animals in captivity, we do enjoy our trips to the zoo.

The main entrance to the Oakland Zoo. (Photo by Ron Burda)
The main entrance to the Oakland Zoo. (Photo by Ron Burda)

However, like most zoo visitors, I am familiar only with the names of the most commonly known animals (giraffe, lion, chimpanzee).

For other animals (siamang, tenrec, etc.), like most other visitors, I rely on the signs at each exhibit. The difficulty for our family is that we don't know the names of these animals in English nor in our native language of Spanish, leaving us unable to tell our daughter the accurate names of the animals she is seeing in each exhibit.

We regularly overhear other parents in the same situation, and not knowing the word for many animals, we often end up calling them by a general, technically incorrect, name such as "monkey" for a siamang, which is in fact an ape.

Readers can imagine what English-speaking families would experience if they walked around the zoo without signage to teach their kids the correct names of animals and the other great information about them (the recorded information boxes are informative, but they are difficult to hear).

With an estimated 40 percent of Oakland's population speaking a language other than English at home, this recent donation to the Oakland Zoo provides the perfect opportunity for a small investment in improving the experience of many families who visit the zoo, making them feel more welcome and comfortable.

In the short term, the zoo might also consider producing its map in other languages.

People who are willing to help the zoo on this project can write zoo administrators. Zoo members can attend the members' meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Ricardo G. Huerta Nio is a resident of San Leandro.