All About Sebastian

Sebastian meets Sunny the radiated tortoise behind the scenes at Wild Encounters.

Animal Encounter Specialist, Samantha K. guest blogs on ZooHoo!

Like all staff at the Wild Encounters stage, I see many different faces each day. I always find it incredibly special when I start to recognize the faces of members who come to the zoo a few times a week, or those Zoo patrons who stay at the stage for multiple shows in a row. A young man named Sebastian was one of the first special patrons I began to notice time and again at the Wild Encounters stage. He was always so enthusiastic, had the best questions to ask me, and seemed to absorb every word I said. He even requested for me to give a presentation or two before the start of the summer months!

I really did not see much of Sebastian during the hot season and missed his enthusiasm. He and his mother returned to the Zoo about a week ago, much to my delight. During this visit, I was able to find out a little bit more about why they had been gone during the summer.

6-year-old Sebastian has a very rare and severe case of Hirschsprung’s Disease. It affects his pancreas, liver, large and small intestines, causing him to be on many transplant lists. Sebastian is often seen carrying around a backpack that administers his medications, which is one of the reasons I was quickly able to recognize him every time he came to the stage during his visits. When we learned about his condition, we wanted to give him the opportunity to learn even more about the animals he sees when he comes to the stage, and to get up-close and personal.

Sebastian and his mother with Sam K. and Ziggy the eagle owl at the Wild Encounters stage.

Sebastian, along with his mother and grandmother, came back to the Zoo a couple of days later and we were able to treat him to a behind-the-scenes experience in our VIP area. Sporting his awesome cheetah conservation shirt, Sebastian was able to learn all about some of the amazing animals often featured on the Wild Encounters stage. He met Indy the savanna monitor and learned about their amazing tongues, Ziggy the Eurasian eagle Owl and their large size, and one of his personal favorites, Sunny the radiated tortoise. We complimented his choice in attire, and he said that his mom told him he could purchase one thing while visiting the zoo, and he picked the cheetah shirt for conservation!

It was an incredible opportunity to connect with someone and make a difference in their lives by doing what I love to do here at the Dallas Zoo. I learned more about Sebastian that day, and I am happy that he’s not just another face in the crowd. We always hope to impact our visitors every day with how they can create a better world for animals, but they might not realize just how much they impact us, too.

If you want to learn more about Sebastian, his family has an Instagram and Facebook account dedicated to his journey. You can find them here:

Instagram: @aboutsebastian
Facebook: All About Sebastian

Categories: Wild Encounters | Leave a comment

Heeding the call: Earthwatch expedition to save chimpanzees

Cristina P. in Uganda on her Earthwatch expedition to BCFS.

Primate keeper Cristina P. guest blogs on ZooHoo!

In August of 2016 I received an unexpected call from the Dallas Zoo’s HR director. She informed me that I had been selected as one of the finalists for an Earthwatch Fellowship, and 9 months later I was on my way to an adventure I will never forget.

Our group met up at a hotel in Entebbe, a city on the Northern Shores of Lake Victoria, 23 miles from the national capital Kampala, Uganda. We had only 5 participants in our team – 3 from Australia, one from Switzerland, and myself. Being in a small group allowed us to really form personal connections, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet people from around the world, including the great people of Uganda.

Chimps gathered near our cabin in the forest.

We left for the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS), and 6 hours later we arrived to the most remote location I had ever been. The nearest town was 45 minutes away, I was not going to be in communication with anyone via phone or internet for the next 10 days, and primates were my new neighbors. I could not have been more excited.

We were surrounded by groups of blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys (also called guenons), baboons and black and white colobus. We saw many bushbucks (a brownish-red hoofed stock) as well as a few genets and civets at night. We heard the nightly calls of the tree hyrax.  Birds were abundant in the area making it a great spot for bird watchers. The butterflies were the prettiest I had ever seen.

BCFS has been around since 1990, and over the years, researchers have noticed that some of the fruit trees (which provide the chimps’ natural food source) have been producing drastically fewer amounts of fruit. The local villagers also believe that chimps and baboons have been raiding their crops more frequently. Could the decline of fruit availability be causing the increase in crop raiding? Could the fruit decrease be caused by global warming? Is this simply part of a natural cycle of the forest? The area had been exploited for many decades by the British for mahogany, so there’s also a theory that maybe as the forest regenerates and trees get taller, there is less sun getting through to the shorter fruit trees, thus affecting their development.

BCFS tries to look at every piece of the puzzle, so many of the tasks we performed were for the purpose of furthering this research. One day we set up mist nets in the forest to catch birds and catalog them, since they are important in spreading seeds (they were released after we were done with measurements, banding and pictures). BCFS field assistants monitor types of leaves and fruit levels on around 1,400 fruit trees in the area, so we assisted in data collection for that project as well.  But most importantly, we observed 2 troops of chimpanzees, which was an experience like no other.

We observed this chimp enjoying a snack.

Some days, we’d start walking before dawn so we could find the chimps as they were waking up. One of the groups, called Sonso has been studied since the beginning of the project and is fully habituated, which means they see the people as part of their environment and do not mind human presence. The second group, Waibira, has been studied since 2011 and are still in the process of habituation. For the purposes of minimizing disease transmission and our safety we were told to keep a distance of approximately 23 feet to the chimps. The only problem with that was the animals don’t know that rule and at times came pretty close to us. It was fascinating to be so close to an animal that is so strong and powerful, yet they seemed to just go about their day as if we weren’t even there.

A chimp is observed with injuries from being caught in a snare.

We also had the chance to assist the snare removal team. In this particular area, chimps are not hunted for bush meat. Instead the targets are bush pigs, blue and red duikers, and bushbucks. Unfortunately though, chimps inadvertently get caught in those, and about 25% of the animals in this area have a snare-related injury. One particular female had gotten caught by a snare 3 different times! They have even been observed trying to free one another from the snares. It was also noted that there was no difference in how the injured chimps were treated by their troop and they seem to eventually adapt to their new reality of missing fingers, toes, etc. Unfortunately some are not so lucky and do end up dying from their injuries. Occasionally the BCFS veterinary team will sedate an injured chimp and remove a snare if the animal is left behind by its troop.

On one of our last days we visited a nearby village to interview the local farmers and learn about the impact that chimps, baboons, and small monkeys have on their crops. Years ago, BCFS helped them identify what kinds of foods would be least appealing to the animals and provided them with seeds, which were then planted near the forest edge. They do this in the hopes that the animals might keep walking further out to search for foods they like better. The farmers depend on these crops, not only for income, but also to feed their families.

Leaving BCFS was bittersweet. I still miss seeing the chimps and all the people I met! But since I’ve returned from Uganda, I have a renewed hope that there are people out there doing amazing things every day to save these animals from extinction.

Categories: Africa, Chimpanzee, Conservation, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Boipelo update: a Q&A with mammal supervisor Megan L.

Boipelo has been adjusting well after the loss of her companion, Adhama.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received in the past two weeks since Adhama’s sudden passing. Many of you have reached out with questions about how Boipelo has been adjusting, so we sat down with Megan L. (Dallas Zoo mammal supervisor, and one of our primary hippo keepers) to give you an update.

In general, how has Boipelo been feeling and behaving since Adhama’s passing?

She is an incredibly strong and resilient animal. But she has just been a little bit slower to do things that she would’ve done faster in Adhama’s company. Boipelo is a shy individual as it is, so she is just taking a little longer to feel confident in certain situations. With Adhama, she would pretty much encourage him to do everything before her. It was always: “You go check out that enrichment device/toy/new snack first.” And that goes back to hippos’ group mentality. The dominant animals will typically have other members of the group check things out first, to be sure they’re safe.

She’s doing great at interacting with us during training sessions and keeper chats. We train for husbandry behaviors – like ultrasounds and other routine medical procedures – that allow our animals to voluntarily participate in their own healthcare.

We’ve also seen her on the monitors at night playing with her favorite giant ball. She’ll push it back and forth in her pool behind the scenes. And she’s maintained a consistent appetite and normal feeding schedule throughout this time. These behaviors indicate to us that she’s adjusting and doing well.

How have keeper interactions with her changed?

She has a team of at least four people that work with her regularly, and she interacts extremely well with all of us. Relationship-building takes time, especially with her since she is naturally shy. That makes it really rewarding when you get those positive reactions from her though. And she’s getting a lot of extra attention. Yesterday, she was laying down, and we got down next to her and she was vocalizing and seemed excited to have that interaction and connection with us in that moment. She is getting lots of treats and attention from all of her keepers.

What kinds of things did you do to make sure Boipelo was doing well in those first days after Adhama’s death?

We wanted her routine to be as normal as possible. We did go out to her behind-the-scenes habitat and interact with her a bit more in those first few days, just to try to make her feel comfortable. She didn’t engage with the offer of interaction with us every time. But we wanted to give her plenty of opportunity for attention if she wanted it.

How are you and Adhama’s other keepers dealing with his loss personally?  

We’re animal professionals. Loss is a part of our job, because that’s part of the circle of life. It’s always hard. He was very charming and one of those animals that was such a joy to be around. We’ll never be able to forget him, and of course we wouldn’t want to. But the focus is now on caring for our other animals, including Boipelo, which makes it easier to keep going.

One thing that has helped us is seeing the public sharing pictures and memories of him – it reminds us how much he meant to people. He used to go to the glass and just hang out with guests. That was so “him” – giving a part of himself to the public, and it was a really magical thing. Think about all the zoo animals…which ones respond and seem to interact with guests like that? They don’t have to do that. But Adhama did.

We also SO appreciate everyone’s kind words of support during this time. It means so much to us to read all of the comments on social media – they have really touched us and made us feel so supported.

Will the Dallas Zoo bring in another hippo as a companion for Boipelo?

That’s the plan, but the time frame is still to be determined. We’re in no rush. In time, we’ll work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Hippo Species Survival Plan team to try to identify a potential companion for our Boipelo.

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Simmons Hippo Outpost, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

African elephants Nolwazi & Amahle settling into new home at Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Mother/daughter pair Nolwazi and Amahle moved to their new home at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California this week.

A small task force from our animal care team has been hard at work for months preparing to relocate elephants from our herd to a new home. Those months of thoughtful preparation, diligent training, and a 32-hour trip are now over, and we’re happy to report that Nolwazi and Amahle have safely arrived at Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California.

The pair are getting acclimated to the zoo’s expansive, naturalistic mixed-species African Adventure habitat after arriving in Fresno on Tuesday evening, October 16.

The unique situation in Fresno presented an exciting opportunity to move Nolwazi (approx. 24 years old) and her daughter Amahle (approx. 9 years old) to an AZA-accredited zoo that shares our same philosophy of animal welfare and approach to animal care. The Fresno elephant team cares for one bull and one young female, and we hope the move will allow Nolwazi to assume a matriarchal position, leading a herd of her own – a role for which we believe she is well-suited. This also gives Amahle a similar-aged female with whom to socialize and play.

“We have been looking to grow our African elephant herd,” said Amos Morris, Deputy Director/Chief Operating Officer at Fresno Chaffee Zoo. “Having Nolwazi and Amahle join us accomplishes that, and will hopefully create a successful family group that may lead to breeding in the future.”

Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s herd now consists of four elephants, and Dallas Zoo remains home to an eight-elephant herd, including our four “Golden Girls,” and four elephants that were a part of the Swaziland rescue in 2016.

Planning for a massive move

Animal moves are complex, meticulously planned endeavors – particularly when they involve animals as intelligent and social as elephants. This move has been months in the making, and our team has worked closely with staff from Fresno to ensure a successful move and safe introduction to the new home for the elephant pair. Members of Fresno’s elephant team have visited Dallas multiple times over the last few months to work with our staff and to familiarize themselves with Nolwazi and Amahle’s routines and personalities.

During their visits, Fresno’s team observed both elephants were curious about them but did not appear nervous, and the team was able to start working with and have positive experiences with both Nolwazi and Amahle almost immediately. They also noted how critical it was to begin forming relationships with both elephants ahead of the move, which should help ease the transition now that they have arrived at their new home in California.

Dallas Zoo’s elephant team created and followed a comprehensive training plan in the months leading up to the move to ensure Nolwazi and Amahle would be as comfortable as possible with the transport crates that would house them during their trip to Fresno. Both crates were equipped with video cameras so the travel team could monitor the pair throughout the journey.

Four Dallas Zoo team members, along with a curator from Fresno Chaffee Zoo, two veterinarians, and two expert consultants, traveled with Nolwazi and Amahle during the drive from Dallas to Fresno, providing updates every few hours on progress and ensuring the animals’ comfort throughout the trip. By all reports, the trip went off without a hitch.

Dallas Zoo staff members will remain in Fresno for several days to work with the team and the elephants to help ensure a successful transition to their new home, where we are excited to see them continue to thrive!

A quick history lesson

Nolwazi and Amahle came to Dallas in March 2016, along with bull Tendaji, and females Mlilo and Zola, as part of a multi-zoo rescue project to save elephants from being culled (killed) in drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa. When these elephants arrived, they were underweight and in need of TLC, so our dedicated animal team immediately began administering round-the-clock care. Becoming comfortable with their new home and feasting on a well-maintained diet, the entire Swazi herd soon began to gain weight and bond with keepers.

Just two months later, our Swazi herd of five grew to six with the unexpected arrival of adorable baby Ajabu to mom Mlilo. Over the course of almost a year, Dallas Zoo’s elephant team carefully orchestrated introductions of the Swazi elephants to our “Golden Girls” – Jenny, Gypsy, Congo, and Kamba.

We’ve loved watching Nolwazi and Amahle’s personalities develop and grow over these last two years within our dynamic herd. While we’re sad that Nolwazi and Amahle have left our herd, we know the opportunity for them to be a part of a growing family herd at Fresno Chaffee Zoo will allow them to flourish. That’s what we want for every animal in our care – and that’s why we do what we do every day.

We know you’ll join us as we wish Nolwazi and Amahle well in their new home in Fresno!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo devastated by sudden loss of male hippo Adhama

Adhama’s sudden passing has shaken the Dallas Zoo family.

Dallas Zoo is saddened to announce that 7-year-old male hippo Adhama passed away suddenly on Tuesday evening.

The hippo keepers and our veterinary team had been monitoring Adhama’s health since late last week, after observing some lethargy and a diminished appetite. Adhama spent Monday and Tuesday behind the scenes under observation and resting, but there was nothing to indicate a serious issue. After hours on Tuesday evening, keepers observed via closed-circuit video that Adhama seemed to be non-responsive, and our animal care team responded immediately. Unfortunately, the team found that he had passed away suddenly with no external signs of stress or trauma.

Preliminary findings from the veterinary team indicate severe enteritis, which is an acute inflammation of the intestine. According to the veterinary team, given the condition of Adhama’s organs and his fat reserves, this does not appear to have been a long-term illness. The team is continuing to study the situation to learn more, but given the lack of significant symptoms, the team is confident there’s nothing they would have done differently.

Adhama arrived at the Dallas Zoo in 2017, when we opened the Simmons Hippo Outpost.

“From the time he arrived here at the Dallas Zoo, Adhama captivated us all with his curious nature and larger-than-life personality. He was a wonderful ambassador as we opened our Simmons Hippo Outpost and reintroduced hippos to Dallas last year,” said Gregg Hudson, President and CEO of the Dallas Zoo. “Our entire team is understandably shaken, given the suddenness of Adhama’s passing. Please keep our entire staff in your thoughts during this difficult time.”

Adhama and Boipelo came to the Dallas Zoo in March 2017 (from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens and Albuquerque Zoo, respectively), ahead of the opening of the Zoo’s Simmons Hippo Outpost in April. These two hippos were matched on a breeding recommendation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.

The two quickly bonded and became an adorable pair, enjoying lounging together on the habitat’s sand beach or taking naps in the 120,000-gallon pool.

“We know so many people in our extended Zoo family share in our sadness since we have enjoyed watching Adhama and Boipelo as their personalities and relationship developed over these last 18-plus months,” said Hudson.

Boipelo gave birth to a calf in February 2018, but the calf did not survive. The hippo keepers report that Boipelo is subdued in the initial hours since Adhama’s passing. The team is focused on ensuring she is maintaining as much of a routine as possible in spite of the loss of her mate. She will be given access to the habitat starting today, but the Zoo staff will follow her lead on her day-to-day availability.

The Zoo will continue to provide updates as more information is available.

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Simmons Hippo Outpost | 21 Comments

Brought to you by the Dallas Zoo