Miniature longhorns and new experiences replace pony rides



We’ve got some big news about some little things to share. Well, kind of little, anyway.

Our Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo has welcomed longhorns – miniature ones! This is Texas, after all, and longhorns are as Texas as it gets.

The change also means that this Sunday (Oct. 30) will be the last day for pony rides in the Children’s Zoo.

Next month, we’ll transform the pony stalls into a cattle yard for the five-month-old male babies. Despite their small stature, these miniatures will eventually rock a full set of horns, like their full-size counterparts, and will only grow up to four feet tall.

Also coming in November, the former Pony Trek will transform into an immersive and interactive Nature Play area that will bring children closer to the outdoors. In this space, kids can climb on boulders and logs; build secret hideaways with natural materials; and play in our mud kitchen.

And starting Thanksgiving weekend, we’ll debut our new “Life at the Ranch” presentation, showcasing Texas’s role in ranching and helping to change the face of the American West. This new interactive, daily presentation will feature trained animal behaviors starting with our goats, and eventually chickens and pigs.

Our sweet girl, Cleo, has an important job ahead working with special-needs children.

Our sweet girl, Cleo, has an important job ahead working with special-needs children.

Rest assured, our ponies are in good hands. Cleo, one of our sweetest and most popular ponies, has moved to a horse therapy ranch, where she’s working with special-needs children.

The other four ponies – Gunner, Arrow, Gracie and Epona – soon will move to Furry FriendZy Animal Rescue and Wildlife Rehabilitation, another non-profit organization like the Dallas Zoo. Some of our other horses have retired there, too, and we know they take great care of their animals.

This weekend, come by and say farewell to our beloved ponies – and be sure to check out our new experiences debuting next month! Stay tuned for more additions coming as we implement our long-term plan to revamp our 15-year-old Children’s Zoo. We can’t wait to share!

Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family) | Tags: | Leave a comment

New male mandrill to unite family troop



Keeper Annie Birdsong guest-blogs on ZooHoo!


Jax shares an inquisitive moment with Saffron and her son Obi.

We’re loving our new male mandrill, Jax, who joins Saffron and her son, 2-and-a-half-year-old Obi! Jax’s timely arrival brings our family troop together once again.

During the short history of our mandrill troop since little Obi arrived, we’ve suffered two difficult losses. Born March 28, 2014, Obi was the first mandrill born at the Zoo in nearly 25 years. Sadly, three months later, Obi lost his father, 18-year-old Milo, to a form of lymphatic cancer.

Milo’s sudden death left Dallas Zoo staff at a loss. But that winter, after a long search, we welcomed Savuti, a geriatric 23-year-old male mandrill from the Buffalo Zoo. Savuti would become Obi’s father figure.

But more than a year later, Savuti passed away from age-related health issues, which wasn’t unexpected due to his advanced age. And again, our search was on to find a male who would bring our family troop together and teach Obi how to be a respectful adult, so he could one day take over the troop.

That’s where 9-year-old Jax comes in. He arrived in August from Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla. Jax lived with his father, and due to this, he hasn’t developed into his full male mandrill size. But that’s about to change, and all our visitors will be lucky enough to witness his transformation.

img_4093-jax-mandrill-csJuvenile male mandrills who live in close contact with a dominant male can be hormone-suppressed, and may stay skinny with drab colorations, as to not compete with the dominant male.

Dominant male mandrills have even more brightly colored faces and rumps than females and juvenile males, and an impressive mane and beard, too. They also have a stockier body, and you can see that our Jax is still rather skinny and lanky. We’re excited to see that since Jax has moved into our mandrill barn and met his new family, his colors already have begun to pop.

Here on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Mandrill Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding recommendation, Jax has been paired with Obi’s mom, Saffron, and we hope they will bring Obi a little brother or sister, as well as becoming a needed male role model in Obi’s life.

Jax sits in the window of the mandrill habitat and absolutely loves to smile at visitors. Mandrills are the only primate species, besides humans, who actually “smile” as a greeting; most other primates only show their teeth when they’re “fear grinning.” He also is very particular about his food, rinsing off produce in the habitat streams before he eats it.

Come watch Jax, Obi, and Saffron getting to know each other in our mandrill habitat at the entrance of the Wilds of Africa. We look forward to sharing more developments as our troop becomes more bonded.

Categories: Africa, Mandrill, Monkey | 1 Comment

World Okapi Day: Celebrating our remarkable history



The Dallas Zoo has deep roots in the preservation of the okapi species – roots that far exceed North America.

They’re growing steadfastly into Europe, where our renowned breeding program is ensuring the survival of these stunning, mysterious animals from the Congo. And on the first-ever World Okapi Day, we’re sharing our pivotal story to make sure these horse-shaped, zebra-stripe-wearing, giraffe-head-resembling animals never disappear from Earth.

First discovered in 1901 by a British explorer, okapis were incredibly elusive in the wild, earning them the nickname “African unicorn.” The naturally solitary creatures were, and still are, experts at traveling unnoticed in the dense rain forests.

But today, their numbers have drastically dropped. Fewer than 15,000 remain in the Congo, and that’s a generous estimation. Their numbers have fallen by 50 percent in the past 15 years due to illegal poaching, logging and human encroachment.

It wasn’t until the late 1930s that okapi made their way to the U.S. And accredited zoos have learned new information daily about these extraordinary animals ever since.

The 1980s proved to be a big decade for okapi breakthroughs. In 1982, only 16 okapi lived in U.S. zoos, and seven of those called Dallas Zoo home.

With a stable population, our staffers spearheaded okapi research and wrote the standards for okapi behavior, including research on infrasound communications, vocalizations heard below the range of human hearing; behavioral indicators of estrus and pregnancy; and relationship and physiological norms for mothers and calves.

Published in 1999, The Okapi: Mysterious Animal of Congo-Zaire, is still the only book of its kind on okapi in English. This material allowed zoos across the world to successfully reproduce okapi.

Before arriving in Zurich, the okapi underwent 3 inspections, 6 trips on various forklifts, an 8-hour flight, and two road trips. Megan Lumpkin was there every minute of the 30-hour journey.

Before arriving in Zurich, the okapi underwent 3 inspections, 6 trips on various forklifts, an 8-hour flight, and 2 road trips. Lumpkin was with Ann and Imba every minute of the 30-hour journey.

Sending our bloodline

In the Dallas Zoo’s 50-year history of caring for endangered okapi, we’ve welcomed 36 calves. About 75 percent of all okapi in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) are related to Dallas Zoo offspring.

Jump to spring 2013, when we made a move that hadn’t been done in more than 20 years – after three years of coordination, we flew two of our majestic okapi to Europe.

Our okapis’ bloodlines were needed to improve and protect their lineage in zoos overseas, so the SSP and the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) partnered to diversify the okapi gene pool.

We sent okapis Ann and Imba on a cargo plane to Zurich, Switzerland, along with their dedicated keeper Megan Lumpkin, an okapi behavior expert.

“People often call okapi mysterious, but I know them to be so much different,” said Lumpkin, Upper Wilds of Africa assistant supervisor. “It‘s so special to work with an animal that few humans have had the opportunity to research in the wild.”

Ann now resides at the Zooparc de Beauval in France, while male Imba lives at Zoo Basel in Switzerland.

Assistant Supervisor, Megan Lumpkin, shares a special moment with 19-year-old male Niko.

Assistant Supervisor, Megan Lumpkin, shares a special moment with 19-year-old male Niko.

Cue the big baby news

The first okapi calf born out of the Dallas Zoo and EEP partnership was just welcomed Oct. 1 to father Imba. This is also the first okapi baby for Zoo Basel in 11 years.

The grandson of our male Niko and female Kwanini, Imba’s doing exactly what his endangered species needs.

Lumpkin says that despite the language barrier, she and Imba’s lead keeper exchange emails frequently, and the baby photos make the memories of that 30-hour journey worthwhile.

Although okapi experts say numbers in human care still need to grow, about 170 okapi now live in zoos across the globe, with 96 in U.S. AZA-accredited facilities and 67 in European zoos.

“They’re truly gentle giants and are very much individuals. Being naturally solitary animals, they have to figure things out for themselves,” said Lumpkin. “Every day I have the rare opportunity to learn something new about this remarkable animal, and I’ve fallen in love with them.”

(Dallas Zoo’s five okapi remain off exhibit through the spring while construction of the 3.5-acre, $13.5 million Simmons Hippo Outpost continues near their habitat.)

WATCH this throwback footage of baby Almasi, our last calf born Aug. 14, 2013.

Categories: Conservation, Okapi | Leave a comment

Nine things you probably didn’t know vet techs do



It’s National Vet Tech Week and we’re revealing the surprising, sometimes gross, and always super-impressive job requirements that make vet techs so special and versatile. Our $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility consists of five licensed techs, three full-time veterinarians, hospital keepers, and records administration.

Our vet techs work with some of the most majestic animals on earth, helping monitor animals under anesthesia; collecting blood samples; placing IV catheters and performing endotracheal intubation; filling hundreds of prescriptions; laboratory work; and assisting during procedures. The list seriously doesn’t stop.

Here are nine things you probably didn’t know our incredibly hardworking, smart technicians do with a healthy dose of good humor.

1. They geek out over abscesses. The process of lancing an abscess, flushing it, and then watching it heal is truly their idea of a good time.

2. They’re not “clock watchers.” They come in the middle of the night when needed; work through lunch during surgeries; stay late when new animals arrive, and more. (Vet techs may be superheroes.)


3. Techs are skillful phlebotomists. They draw blood from the smallest of birds and reptiles to the largest of mammals. They must know where the best collection site is: jugular for birds; tail vein for most snakes and lizards; subcarapacial sinus in turtles/tortoises; and the tail, leg, or jugular vein in most mammals. (Serious mic drop.)

4. They’re brave. Techs conquer their fears to help animals they’re afraid of, and they do it with a lot compassion.


5. They’re the only people EVER who look forward to teeth cleanings. During dental prophylaxis, they become giddy after snagging a huge piece of calculus (tarter) off an animal’s tooth. (No joke.)


6. They work with zookeepers to make health checks easier on the animals. Through voluntary training, animals don’t have to go under sedation; instead they’re taught to present body parts for things like, blood draws, vaccinations, blood pressure and more. Pretty awesome, huh?

7. Techs do it all and more. They’re the setup crew, the cleanup crew, the nurse anesthetist, and everything in between.


8. They LOVE neonates. (Even capitalizing ‘love’ still makes it an understatement.)

9. They win “Best Supporting Actor” every time. “Techs are the wind beneath the wings of the veterinarians. Without techs, vets would not be able to soar as high as they do.” ~ Dianna Lydick, hospital manager, BS, RVT, VTS (zoo)


Not only are our vet techs licensed professionals who have to pass a national and state exam, but all of our techs have a Bachelor’s degree, and an Associates of Applied Science in Veterinary Technology. They also are required to attend continuing education annually just like other health professions. Plus, they’re part of the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians.

To vet technicians everywhere, we honor you this week and applaud your work ethic, especially our zoological technicians: Deborah Chase, Cassandra Reid, Laurel Walosin, Eileen Heywood, and relief tech/hospital manager, Dianna Lydick.

Categories: Veterinary Care | Tags: | Leave a comment

The community who cleans together, stays together

Kohl's, one of our most dedicated groups, works hard to clear bamboo out of our tiger habitat. We're honored Kohl's donated funds to our volunteer programs, and frequently spends time helping our Zoo.

Kohl’s, one of our most dedicated groups, works hard to clear bamboo out of our tiger habitat. We’re grateful that Kohl’s has donated funds to our volunteer programs, and frequently spends time improving our Zoo.

It’s time to get our hands dirty and clean up! Today we hosted our second-ever Corporate Workday event with more than 130 volunteers. Our staff worked alongside these selfless professionals on multiple projects throughout our 106-acre park.

Our friends from Kohl’s, Fossil Group, Humana, HP-E, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Samsung, and American Airlines helped us get the Zoo squeaky clean. A few jobs they worked on today included: raking up leaves in the tiger habitat; spreading mulch in behind-the-scenes animal yards; gardening; and scrubbing down our animal hospital.

Our Corporate Workdays benefit everyone involved. Companies get a chance to give back to their community and spend valuable team-building time together, and we get much-needed help with some of our projects.

“Our volunteers are simply amazing! They bring a wealth of knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm that is unmatched,” said Julie Bates, director of Dallas Zoo’s Volunteer Services. “We could not accomplish what we do here without them. Together, we are building a better world for animals.”

As a non-profit, days like this are vital to making our Zoo the best it can be. You don’t have to be part of a corporate team to volunteer, though! Check out all the ways you can help the Zoo and give back to your community.

Kimberly-Clark Corporation volunteers clean the floors of our animal hospital.

Kimberly-Clark Corporation volunteers clean the floors of our animal hospital.

Volunteers from American Airlines work on winter window coverings for our gorilla building.

Volunteers from American Airlines work on winter window coverings for our gorilla building.

Categories: Volunteers | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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