Green tip #3: Upcycling makes old products new again

IMG_6032 Kipling Christmas Tree CS

Our keepers are always looking for ways to repurpose things. When it comes to old Christmas trees, our tigers go nuts for this easy enrichment item.

You’ve all heard the phrase Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but did you know there’s a fourth way to help the environment and it’s the newest trend in town? Repurposing or “upcycling” old items into new ones is a great way to save money, showcase your creativity and an even better way to be environmentally sustainable!

As you come up with new ways to save your pocket and the environment, look no further than the unused items in your home:

Old jeans are easily one of the most upcycled materials because of their durability and distinctive look. Try making blankets, pillows, backpacks, purses, wall storage and coasters with this great textile.

Rain boots or cowboy boots will look festive even after the insides have been worn down and damaged. You can use these as doorstops, planters, and even birdhouses.

Glass Jars and bottles are made to serve as a container when you buy them, so why not upcycle them to contain something else? Use beverage and jam jars as fun decorations, flower vases, toothbrush holders, jewelry holders, kitchen organizers and just about anything else you can think of!

If you run out of ideas on what to upcycle, recycling is the next best thing!

Learn more about how you can be a part of Dallas Zoo’s Green Team.

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Quick-thinking mechanic saves koi pond


_MG_2864-Ruben Pacheco-Water FeaturesIf fish could talk, the 40 koi that call the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo home would be singing the praises of water features mechanic Ruben Pacheco. His quick thinking kept them alive after a recent water filter break.

The 7,500-gallon koi pond is one of more than 30 different water features at the Zoo, but it’s the only one that is life-sustaining.

The koi pond’s multiport, an essential part of the sand filtration system, broke in early July and a shipping mishap left the Zoo without the correct replacement.

The previously crystal-clear pond was looking like a swamp without the correct multiport.

“The water was so green, you couldn’t see below the surface,” Pacheco said.

With time ticking and the ammonia levels rising, it quickly became a life-or-death situation for the beloved koi, until Pacheco took action on a sweltering Saturday.

He and assistant Danny Baker installed a working replacement multiport – one they built themselves! Using parts from non-working multiports and other random parts they found in our warehouse, they “frankensteined” a replacement.

The quick fix cleaned the pool, kept the koi swimming and gave the Zoo time to order the correct part.

“Ruben is fantastic. He’s a lifesaver,” zookeeper Stephanie Evola said.

For Pacheco, who’s been a Zoo employee for more than a decade, it’s all in a day’s work. It’s all about keeping the animals safe.

“I love the challenge,” he said.

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Rare Egyptian vulture proves he’s special for many reasons


Egyptian Vulture

Bird keeper Debbie Milligan guest-blogs on Zoohoo!

As animal keepers, we are frequently asked: “What is your favorite fill in the blank?” I always think that question is like, “What is your favorite pie?” How can I pick just one when they are all amazing?

However, every once in a while, one member of our collection sticks out and becomes special to a lot of people. In honor of International Vulture Awareness Day on Sept. 3 (put it on your calendar!), and as a way to say bon voyage to one special bird, let me introduce you to Einstein.

Einstein is a 28-year-old Egyptian vulture who came to the Dallas Zoo in 1990. Egyptian vultures are striking birds with white body feathers, black flight feathers and a bare yellow face. With three subspecies, they range from South and Eastern Europe, India and Africa. They tend to be solitary birds or live as a pair; rarely are these birds found in groups.

For his keepers, what makes Einstein so great is his attitude. He is just… mellow. He doesn’t walk, he strolls. He isn’t intimidated by larger birds or with new items. Egyptian vultures are one of the few bird species that use tools. These birds will find rocks, of a particular size, and use the rocks to open up eggs.  The birds will use their bill to pick up the rock and throw it at the egg until they break it open to eat the yolk and egg white inside.

As a special treat, we occasionally give Einstein an unfertile ostrich egg, and he immediately shows off his tool-using skills. It is so impressive to watch him do this. (See my video below!)


Egyptian vultures were the symbol for royalty in ancient Egypt, They were the sacred bird of Egyptian Goddess Isis and can be seen on many hieroglyphs! In fact, Egyptian vultures were so revered, they were protected under the Pharaoh and became so common they were called “Pharaoh’s chicken.”

It’s sad that these beautiful birds are now an endangered species. Their numbers are declining rapidly.  One of the main causes for their downfall, as for most vulture species, is by eating poisoned carcasses.

Many African farmers will deliberately poison livestock carcasses, intended to kill lions and other predators as retaliation after they’ve killed their livestock, but the vultures get to them first. Vultures also die from eating the poisoned carcasses poachers leave, so the birds aren’t able to circle the sky and potentially alert authorities of illegal activity. Vultures are also dying from electrocution by flying into powerlines, and increased human disturbance in their breeding areas.

I bet you’re asking: “Why are you saying goodbye to Einstein if he is so special and we need to breed more Egyptian vultures?” It is because Einstein is one of only three Egyptian vultures in U.S. zoos. In the best interest of his species, and for Einstein to produce chicks, he needs to go to Europe to find a mate. The Prague Zoo is one institution that is world-renowned for breeding Egyptian vultures. Hopefully Einstein will become part of this program and produce many chicks to help the survival of his species.

So please come visit Einstein before he leaves this fall and celebrate this wonderful group of birds: vultures! You can find Einstein in the saddle-billed stork exhibit on the Gorilla Trail near the monorail station.

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Operation saving horned lizards: A successful tagging season in West Texas


IMG_0561 TX Horned Lizard CS

IMG_0509 TX Horned Lizard - Bradley Lawrence CS

Reptile and amphibian supervisor Bradley Lawrence guest-blogs on ZooHoo!.

We are nearly done with our 2016 Texas horned lizard tagging season at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Fisher County, Texas. At this point, we haven’t crunched any numbers, but as usual on this 4,700 acre preserve, we are seeing many horned lizards, commonly known as horny toads.

This is Dallas Zoo’s seventh year working on the ranch, studying the life history of this Texas icon. Sadly, their numbers have declined drastically over their natural range. Invasive fire ants, over-collection, habitat destruction, and lack of harvester ants (their main diet), have all contributed to the downfall of our official state reptile.

Which is why our reptile team spends many days on this protected ranch each spring and summer, collecting as much data as we can to shed light on what these lizards need to make a comeback.

Spring can bring some violent weather to the rolling plains of Texas, and this year has been a doozy. My first six evenings out west brought six pretty rough storms, high winds, driving rain and some baseball-sized hail.

Precipitation is crucial to the survival of many species at the study site, including horned lizards. So I can’t complain about the rain. I have to take every opportunity to look for lizards in between the storms. When the sun comes out, so do the lizards.

The resources available to all of the wildlife at the ranch this year are great. I hear quail everywhere, and deer, rabbit, rodents, birds, insects are all abundant. It seems that ground squirrel and rat numbers are climbing quickly.

bradley picking up snakeFortunately, I have seen many healthy, robust rattlesnakes this year, too. Rattlesnakes are crucial to rodent control and the ecosystem – they’re the most efficient way to keep rodent populations in check. They keep rodents from overwhelming native plants, as well as our crops. And most importantly, rattlesnakes protect us from many serious diseases carried by rodents.

While in the field, we also record as much data about the rattlesnake population as we can. About ten years ago, this land was used to hunt rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes were driven from their dens, and were stored off-site in inhumane conditions, then transported to cruel “rattlesnake roundup” festivals and slaughtered in a misguided effort to clear areas of these keystone predators.

Now that rattlesnakes aren’t harvested on this preserve (thanks to the current owners), we’re using this opportunity to look at how they’re doing since they’ve been left alone.

We process each rattlesnake we catch in the same way we do with the horned lizards, but with more safety measures. They are weighed, measured, and their GPS location’s noted. We record their microchip number if they have one, if not we give them one. (The passive integrated transponder tag we insert on horned lizards and rattlesnakes is the same kind of chip used to help identify lost dogs and cats.)

Then we send them off on their merry way, and get back on our ATVs in search of more reptiles.

As summer comes to an end, we start to see many horned lizard hatchings. It makes me hopeful for this threatened animal’s rebound and, of course, ends the tagging season on a great note.

WATCH this awesome video of our trip out to the ranch last year.

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Conservation concerns brought to life with interactive art displays from 9th graders


Conservation concerns about animals may not be top of mind for most teenagers, but the ninth graders at Village Tech High School are far from typical.

The students from the Cedar Hill charter school were challenged this past spring to think deeply about endangered animals for a semester-long project integrating many different school subjects with an end goal of a prototype interactive sculpture.

A partnership with the Dallas Zoo elevated the original challenge by giving the students the opportunity to talk with experts and possibly have their work displayed to the public.

“The Zoo gives the project credibility and an authentic audience,” said Justin Robinson, the director of the Forge, the school lab that brought these projects to life.

By the end of the year, the ninth graders completed four interactive art display prototypes highlighting the ocelot, African elephant, hawksbill sea turtle and western lowland gorilla. These projects used art, engineering, science and more to tell the tale of endangered species.

“We want every project to result in people taking action,” said Dallas Zoo director of Education, Marti Copeland. “[Their work] exceeded my expectations.”

Learn more about each project:

Western lowland gorilla African elephant


The western lowland gorilla team planned to create a gorilla sculpture that looks like it is covered in concrete, emphasizing the habitat destruction that is threatening the animal’s population.


This team created a mechanical sculpture showing the stride of an adult elephant. An integrated 15 minute countdown clock reminds the public how often an elephant is killed in the wild for its ivory.

Ocelot Hawksbill sea turtle


The ocelot team created a sand timer wheel with facts about the carnivore. As you spin the wheel and read the facts about ocelots, the sand timer continually empties, much like the ocelot species in the wild.


The team created a hologram projection of a hawksbill sea turtle swimming. It’s activated with a 3D-printed button. The team tried using living dinoflagellates marine plankton to illuminate the activation button.

The hawksbill sea turtle and African elephant projects were selected by Zoo judges to be scaled up and adapted into public displays at the Children’s Aquarium and Dallas Zoo.

It’s onto the (now) tenth graders to press on with the projects. With the conceptual idea and prototypes created, they must solve more problems like how to scale up the sculptures, make them self-maintaining and safe for the public before eventually debuting the sculptures at the two venues.

Congratulations to the students at Village Tech. We can’t wait to see these larger-than-life projects with important message inside our Zoo and Aquarium gates!

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