#WhyIGive: Fostering the next generation of wildlife warriors

Tim and Thom DeWitt meet a Dallas Zoo ambassador penguin up close.

In the 12 months since Tim and Thom DeWitt made a gift to the Dallas Zoological Society to create an endowment for the Dallas Zoo’s College Internship Program, more than 100 students have benefited from their generous donation. The initial gift has helped defray operating costs for the program, and the hope is to grow the endowment so it allows the internship program to become self-sustaining. This funding will ensure that for years to come, students can take part in the immersive internship learning environment at the Dallas Zoo.

“We’re thrilled to see the impact our initial donation is having, supporting the next generation of conservationists and helping college students pursue their interests in related fields,” said Tim DeWitt. “What’s on the horizon, though, is most exciting. Once the endowment is fully funded, the possibilities are limitless in terms of how this intern program can grow and help foster a love of wildlife conservation in students.”

In September 2018, the DeWitts committed a gift to be funded over five years to support the ongoing needs of the Dallas Zoo’s internship program, with a portion of that gift dedicated to creating an endowment to sustain and grow the intern program.

“We are so thankful that the DeWitts saw such potential in our internship program and that they share our same passion for cultivating the conservation champions of tomorrow,” said Julie Bates, Dallas Zoo’s Director of Volunteer Services. “College-aged students represent a critical age for nurturing a spirit of service and empowerment, and our internship program is built to help students understand how they can have an impact in creating a better world for animals, and by extension, creating a better world for all of us.”

Having been raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Thom DeWitt was familiar with the Dallas Zoo and came here as a child. And as a former educator, he previously had worked with the Zoo on educational opportunities and curriculum to help connect kids with animals, nature, and conservation. It was their nephew, though, who inspired the DeWitts to support the Dallas Zoo after he participated in the internship program several summers ago.

Colton, Tim & Thom DeWitt’s nephew during his Dallas Zoo internship. (He is second from the right)

“Our nephew was very interested in working at the Zoo, but he wasn’t sure in what capacity,” said Thom DeWitt. “The internship gave him exposure to different parts of the Zoo, and we got to hear him come home every day and talk about the experiences he had, and what he was able to see and learn. We immediately recognized this was a wonderful program and felt we needed to find a way to help expand the internship program to even more students.”

The DeWitts hope the endowment eventually allows the internship program to offer scholarships and helps the program conduct outreach to bring in a diverse socioeconomic mix of students to hone their skills at the Dallas Zoo.

More about the Dallas Zoo’s College Internship Program

Approximately 100 undergraduate or graduate students are selected annually (across fall, spring, and summer semesters) to be a part of the Dallas Zoo’s College Internship Program, following a competitive application and interview process. Interns become actively involved in the Zoo’s animal care departments, conservation and research efforts, operations support, and/or administrative positions, working up to 40 hours per week for 12 weeks. Each placement is designed to help the intern gain experience related to their education.

All Dallas Zoo interns are required to complete an educational project, participate in at least one service learning project, and attend professional development sessions designed especially for zoo interns.

To learn more about the program or to find out when the next application period is, please visit our website for all the details.

Categories: Interns | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Vultures make the world a better, cleaner place

Vultures are known as “nature’s clean-up crew” because they rid our environment of toxic animal carcasses. (White-backed vulture)

Vultures play a critical role in the environment and are beneficial to all animals, including humans. They consume carrion (or dead animals), which rids the environment of potentially deadly carcasses. “Without vultures, we would quickly be up to our necks in diseases that could severely impact our health,” says Dallas Zoo Bird Supervisor Kevin Graham. “It takes all vultures working as a team to fully clean a carcass.”

Ruppell’s vulture have long necks that help them reach interior organs within carrion.

Larger African vultures, such as the lappet-faced and white-backed varieties, get the job started once a carcass is initially detected. Lappet-faced vultures, with their large, powerful beaks are able to tear into tough hides to expose the meat within the carrion. White-back and Ruppell’s vultures, with their long necks, specialize in cleaning out interior muscle and organs. Then, in come the hooded vultures for the final clean-up. Hooded vultures are equipped with long, slender bills that allow them to get meat from harder-to-reach areas like between the ribs and inside the skull.

Sadly, these incredible birds are under siege right now when it comes to survival, including in Africa where they’re being poisoned by the thousands. African vulture populations have declined about 90% in the last 50 years, and if we don’t do something, they could very well be extinct within our lifetimes.

Vulture poisonings are two-fold. Farmers will poison large carnivores that threaten their livestock – like lions and wild dogs. The vultures consume the poisoned carcasses and die as a result. Poachers have also begun intentionally poisoning the carcasses of their illegally hunted animals in order to kill off vultures who may give away their location to authorities, which is even more alarming.

Fortunately, accredited zoos and aquariums, including your Dallas Zoo, are working hard to ensure the survival of African vultures and countless other species through Species Survival Plans (SSPs) as well as promoting pro-wildlife behaviors. We care for eight different species of vultures at the Dallas Zoo, and we take pride in educating our community about the importance of saving these amazing birds.

We care for 8 different vulture species at the Dallas Zoo, several of which are breeding pairs through their respective SSPs. Each season that the bird team welcomes a baby chick is a major success for their endangered species.

Once a chick hatches, the Dallas Zoo bird team works tirelessly to make sure that the precious baby bird has everything he or she needs to thrive. “We check the chick daily to ensure it is in healthy body conditions and to make sure their wings, feet and eyes are all working and growing properly,” Graham says. “We also closely monitor their current weight and adjust their diets as necessary. Because they clean carcasses, we have to provide them with a diverse diet that’s nutritionally balanced.”

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation | 1 Comment

Dollar Day survival guide

AUGUST 13 IS DOLLAR DAY AT THE ZOO

It’s that time of year again at the Zoo—Dollar Day! This annual summer day is our way of giving back and saying “thank you” to our amazing community that supports us year-round. While Dollar Day is one of the most exciting days at the Zoo, it’s also one of the busiest. So here are a few tips to help you make the most of your Zoo day:

  • GET HERE EARLY. Parking lots open at 7 a.m. and gates at 9 a.m., but lines will begin forming at the entrances well before that.
  • TAKE THE DART RED LINE RIGHT TO OUR DOOR. Parking is limited, and with the attendance we expect on Dollar Day, public transportation is such a great alternative to driving personal vehicles.
    • Or consider ride shares like Uber or Lyft to avoid parking.
  • COME WITH A PLAN. Take a look at a map of the Zoo before you come and figure out your plan for the day. Consider which half of the Zoo you want to visit first: Wilds of Africa (hippos, giraffes, elephants, lions, Gorilla Trail) or ZooNorth (Children’s Zoo, reptiles, tiger, monkeys, otters, etc.). Also consider which special events you want to catch. We have keeper chats throughout the day, as well as the 20-minute, interactive DinoSOAR wildlife show and our popular Cheetah Encounter.
    • Also consider snacks! You are welcome to bring your own (Glass items, alcoholic beverages and single-use disposable straws are not permitted. Also keep in mind that we do not have facilities available for food or cooler storage.) We’ll have $1 dollar deals on select snacks, including hot dogs and chips, as well as canned water.
  • PREPARE FOR THE WEATHER. The forecast calls for sun, with temps that will feel like over 100 degrees. Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen and stay hydrated throughout the day!
  • PACK YOUR PATIENCE. The Zoo is going to be crowded. This day is always one of our busiest. Please be patient if you encounter lines and please be kind to Zoo staff as well as our other guests.
  • SPEAK UP IF YOU NEED HELP. If you have a question, problem, or just need directions, please find a uniformed staffer and ask for help. We’re here to make sure you have the best experience!

Sponsored by Sprint, Dollar Day is going to be a busy day full of fun. We can’t wait to see you here!

Categories: Dollar Day, Events | Tags: , | 51 Comments

FIELD NOTES PART III: Saving our state reptile

Reptile supervisor Bradley Lawrence guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

We’ve encountered this beautiful western diamondback rattlesnake recently at RPQR Ranch!

This guest-blog is part of a series. Click to read Part I and Part II!

As much as we all love Texas Horned Lizards, I’d like to take some time this week to talk about another small part of our work at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch…RATTLESNAKES!!!

We love rattlesnakes at the Dallas Zoo, and they are such a vital part of our ecosystem. Rattlesnakes were historically hunted heavily in the area around the ranch for “round ups.” These snakes were hunted indiscriminately until the current property management took over 15 years or so ago. Since then the rattlesnakes have been protected from harvest.

Rattlesnakes are the frontline defense against rodents that carry many diseases harmful to other wildlife, agriculture, and of course, humans. We need them! If you ever encounter one in the wild, leave it alone. Rattlesnakes only bite as a last resort when threatened (and they give you fair warning before doing so!)

The elusive prairie rattlesnake.

As a side project during our time at the ranch monitoring Texas horned lizard populations, we do a similar mark and recapture study for every rattlesnake we see. This allows us to get an idea of the population size, their home ranges, growth rates, and more. We’ve tagged and released about 12 rattlesnakes on the property this spring so far. When we catch one we record its location, weight, length, body condition, and environmental data as well. Most of the rattlesnakes on the property are western diamondbacks, but this week we also found an elusive prairie rattlesnake!

Although they can be dangerous if harassed, I can’t stress enough how important these predators are to the ecosystem. The Texas horned lizard, the rattlesnake and the quail all live in perfect balance at the ranch. Perhaps we could all learn something from them…

Categories: Conservation, Reptiles and Amphibians | 1 Comment

An update on Witten’s passing


Thank you for your outpouring of love and support over the loss of our beloved giraffe Witten. Monday was a tragic whirlwind. We know you have a lot of questions, and we’ve tried to answer them below.

What happened to Witten? Our one-year-old giraffe Witten passed away on Monday, June 17, during a routine physical exam in preparation for his move to another AZA-accredited zoo in Canada on a breeding recommendation made by AZA’s Giraffe Species Survival Plan. Before crossing any borders, animals are required to undergo routine, yet extensive, medical testing, per government regulation. Witten was sedated so our vets could safely perform the physical and viral tests, including tuberculosis and brucellosis testing. Tragically, Witten stopped breathing during the exam and passed away after unsuccessful resuscitation efforts. We are conducting an internal investigation of the incident, including a necropsy (an animal autopsy).

Why did he need to be sedated? Any procedure requiring a sedative requires careful planning, and that decision is not one we make lightly. The safety of both the animal and our staff are top priority.

Are giraffe endangered in the wild? Why is the AZA’s Species Survival Plan so important? Yes, many people don’t realize that giraffes are facing a silent extinction in the wild. In the past 30 years, giraffes have experienced a 40% decline in population. Today it’s estimated that fewer than 97,000 giraffes remain in the wild. Many factors affect giraffes including human encroachment, poaching, and habitat loss. But organizations like zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums are helping save giraffes in the wild through conservation efforts and raising awareness.

Why would moving Witten have been important for the SSP? The AZA’s Species Survival Plan closely monitors genetic diversity to ensure the long-term survival of endangered animals. The Giraffe SSP determined that Witten was a good match for the females at another zoo. He was intended to be that zoo’s dominant bull and was recommended to breed there once mature. He would not have been able to stay at Dallas Zoo, as his father would have driven him out of the herd once he was of breeding age.

How is his mom Chrystal? Chrystal is doing well, and our zoologists are keeping a close eye on her. Male giraffes typically leave their moms around 15 months in the wild, so this was a natural time he would be moving on his own.

How did giraffe Kipenzi die in 2015? Kipenzi attempted to make a sharp turn while rough-housing with her brother, and ran into the perimeter edge of the giraffe habitat, breaking three vertebrae in her neck, and dying immediately. Kipenzi’s death was a tragic loss for the Zoo after her birth was broadcast live on Animal Planet. In honor of Kipenzi, the Dallas Zoo was able to raise nearly $50,000 for giraffe conservation.

How can we help? Please consider making a donation to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, our partner in the field who we work closely with to save giraffes in Africa: www.giraffeconservation.com.

Our hearts are broken over this loss, and we ask that you continue to keep our Zoo family in your thoughts.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Giraffe | 3 Comments

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