Author Archives: Jeremy Proffitt

Never too late to learn: Spectacled owl becomes Zoo’s newest ambassador

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_MG_2366-Talum spectacled owl in public

Jeremy Proffitt, manager of applied behavior and animal welfare, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

_MG_2407-Talum spectacled owlTulum is a special bird that much of the public has never met, but not for long. This spectacled owl is proof that it’s never too late to learn because she’s one of the Zoo’s newest ambassador animals meeting guests in the park.

Tulum is a healthy 25-year-old that’s unable to fly due to an injury as a young owl. In the past, she was skittish around people and the equipment used to handle her. A new behavior plan was developed to build her comfortability with people and confidence in her surroundings.

Keeper Amanda Barr started the process months ago getting Tulum comfortable around her. Amanda’s calm demeanor and patience benefitted Tulum, even in the early days of working together.

Amanda transferred to another section and bird keeper Alex Gilly soon took on the project with open arms. She worked patiently and diligently building a trusting relationship with Tulum that would be paramount to the rest of the training.

With a trusting relationship established, Alex worked daily to introduce the glove, touch Tulum with it, and offer her food from it. Eventually Tulum was asked to stand on the glove, which would allow her to be carried into the park.

Keeper Alex Gilly and owl Tulum have formed a special relationship.

Keeper Alex Gilly and owl Tulum have formed a special relationship.

Alex’s next big step was walking Tulum out of her behind-the-scenes home. The training plan and relationship the keepers built shined through and allowed Tulum to see more of her world.

You might see her out-and-about near Wings of Wonder educating guests. Stop by and say hello!

Tulum’s interactions in the park are short right now, but they will become longer as this remarkable bird becomes more comfortable. Thanks to patient keepers and a special behavior plan, this great little owl gets to broaden her world, and guests get to meet an amazing animal.

The Dallas Zoo has a new little ambassador and she’s ready to meet her world.

Categories: Birds | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

What’s it take to be a zookeeper? An inside view on the best job in the world

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_MG_8806-4x6-Stacey Lapori

Being a zookeeper at the Dallas Zoo is a dream career for many, but it’s more involved than you may think. To give you the inside scoop, we’ve debunked eight myths about zookeepers.

Myth No. 1: They don’t need higher education.

Truth: Actually, zookeepers at AZA-accredited institutions need a college degree, extensive internships and volunteer hours. The most _MG_9878common bachelor’s degrees are in Biology or Zoology, but comes paired with specialization in specific animals, conservation research, and tons of hands-on time that isn’t usually paid. Some zookeepers go on to earn their masters and doctorate degrees, too.

Myth No. 2: It’s easy to snag a job as a zookeeper.

Truth: Nope. Zookeeper jobs are highly competitive because, let’s face it, it’s a dream job. You definitely need a degree. And even if you’re well-educated, you certainly need a ton of experience – think volunteer and intern hours. You need to be prepared, passionate, and willing to work long hours. Most zoos offer internship and volunteer opportunities because it’s the best way to give students a stepping stone to securing a zookeeper job later on. You’ll need a night job, too, because many of these internships are unpaid.

Myth No. 3: Zookeepers are only responsible for the immediate care of their animals.

Truth: Zookeepers do much more than swoon over their cute critters. They must keep up with the latest information on conservation, training techniques, behavioral studies, education and more. And they definitely have to track what’s going on with animal populations in the wild. Zookeepers often talk to guests about animals, teaching the public about them. Add all of that to feeding, cleaning, and training, and it’s quite a lot to keep up with. Being a zookeeper is like having 10 different jobs in one, and every day is uniquely different.

IMG_0506 TX Horned Lizard - Bradley Lawrence CSMyth No. 4: Zookeepers don’t help animals in the wild.

Truth: Zookeepers and accredited zoos have some of the best resources to help wild populations. We like to call our animals at the Zoo “ambassadors” for their species. When we educate guests and get them excited about the animals they see at the Dallas Zoo, they often choose to take action on behalf of wildlife and wild places. In fact, a portion of every Dallas Zoo ticket you purchase goes directly to our Wild Earth Conservation Fund, helping troubled animals in the wild.

Myth No. 5: Zookeepers don’t scoop poop.

Truth: Zookeepers are the caretakers for their animals. Just like you have to pick up your dog’s poop when you go on a walk, zookeepers clean up after their animals, keeping their habitats clean. This kind of job isn’t for people who are afraid to get dirty. But we promise zookeeping entails a lot more than just scooping poop. It’s one of the most rewarding careers there is.

Myth No. 6: Zookeepers can take vacation whenever they want.

Truth: Most zoo residents need care every single day. That means Thanksgiving, Christmas, when it’s 3 degrees and snowing, and when it’s 112 degrees under a blazing Texas sun. Of course, there’s never only one keeper per animal or group of animals, so schedules are organized accordingly, but holidays are definitely tricky at the zoo. When you’re just beginning your career as a zookeeper, you can expect to be scheduled on unusual days to step in for more experienced keepers who’ve earned their Christmas day off at home.

IMG_0998-4x6Myth No. 7: The breeding process is left up to veterinarians and the animals themselves.

Truth: Zookeepers play a large role in the breeding process of their animals. A great deal has to do with carefully monitoring the behavior of each animal and tracking their responses toward each other, to make sure they’re even interested in breeding. Additionally, zookeepers must keep up with introductions between animals, and follow the Zoo’s guidelines on which animals should breed. Here at the Dallas Zoo, we follow the guidelines established by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), including the many Species Survival Plans that build self-sustaining populations of specific species, ensuring those animals remain on earth.

Myth No. 8: Zookeepers eventually get tired of the job and leave.

Truth: The turnover rate for zookeepers is exceptionally low. Keepers are likely to stay in their chosen profession for the rest of their life. They’re a passionate bunch and love the work they do, despite how difficult it can be with education, cleaning, training, feeding and providing medical care. They love our animals so much that no words can truly describe that kind of affection.

We hope these insights help you understand just what makes zookeepers so special. We’re very thankful for our team and all of the hard work they do for our residents at the Dallas Zoo!

Categories: Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Christmas is for the birds

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A snowman is a non-traditional bird feeder, but can work in a pinch as long as the weather cooperates.

A snowman is a non-traditional bird feeder, but it can work as long as the weather cooperates.

Dean of Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy, Ben Jones, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

With 98.5% of all North American migratory birds, and 637 of the 957 total North American bird species recorded in our state, you can say Texas is for the birds! Feeding and identifying birds is an amazing nature adventure that’s fun, intellectually challenging and pleasant to watch and listen.

The average yard has 15 different bird species visitors. With a little effort, you can increase your species count to around 50.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker is seen through a bird-spotting scope. The Dallas Count Circle spotted six sapsuckers on their recent outing.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker is seen through a bird-spotting scope. The Dallas Count Circle spotted six sapsuckers on their recent outing.

Tips to increase your yard bird count:

  • Try offering different foods.
  • Place feeders at different levels. Birds find their food by sight and like to eat at the same level they would find their food in the wild.
  • Try a high quality seed mix to attract cardinals, blue jays, doves, chickadees, and titmice.
  • Add peanuts into the mix for woodpeckers and nuthatch.
  • Add thistle seed this winter for finches. You’ll need a special feeder for thistle or you can pour it into a mesh sock.
  • Suet is a great bird food for winter. Fatty suet provides extra energy for birds during cold months

Some bird species live here year-round, and some are migratory and travel with the seasons. The Christmas Bird Count is the oldest citizen science initiative in the world with tens of thousands of people counting resident and migratory birds. This year on an unseasonably warm Saturday, 37 participants from the Dallas Count Circle identified 107 total species at and around the Dallas Zoo. Some special bird species spotted this year include the greater and lesser yellowlegs, loggerhead shrike, Bewick’s wren and a horned grebe.

This winter watch for resident species like blue jays, northern cardinals, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadee, woodpeckers and mourning, inca and white-wing doves. Also, look closely for migratory species like dark-eyed juncos, American goldfinches, red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches.

Of course, where there is an abundance of bird activity, there could always be bird-eaters.  Make sure your cats stay indoors and watch for raptors like Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks.

So, what are you waiting for? Put out a few feeders. Try some new seed mixes. Sip a hot chocolate and let the winter bird fun begin!

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Categories: Birds, Education | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo’s holiday gift guide

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Shopping for that special someone who has everything? Fret no more. The Dallas Zoo has unique and special gifts that are guaranteed to surprise and delight the hardest person to shop for.

Hippo habitat brick

Give the gift that lasts forever with a commemorative hippo brick. The Simmons Hippo Outpost opens this spring and you can leave your permanent mark on the exhibit with a custom-engraved brick. Prices begin at $500 and can include up to 108 characters of engraved text to honor your friend or family. Your purchase also includes an invitation to a special opening event. Buy your brick now!

Photo Safaris

sl_photosafari2017The amateur photographer in your life needs a special Dallas Zoo Photo Safari! Join staff photographer Cathy Burkey for one of our special programs tailored to photography enthusiasts. We have sessions for every interest: group or private Photo Safaris, and overnight Photo Safaris that include dinner, breakfast and sleeping accommodations on Zoo grounds. Click here to register for a Photo Safari or contact Cathy Burkey at Cathy.Burkey@DallasZoo.com for more details.

Membership

Does your family love learning, animals and fun activities? (Please say yes!) A Dallas Zoo membership may be the perfect gift for your family. Memberships start at $89 and always includes free parking, free admission, a free subscription to our member magazine and discounts at our restaurants and gift shop. Buy your gift membership now!

Adopt-An-Animal

Celebrate a passion for wildlife and give the gift of animal adoption at the Dallas Zoo. Baby elephant Ajabu is this month’s special feature! Your support helps provide habitat, lifestyle and environmental enhancements for the animals in our care.  Each adoption includes a personalized certificate, zookeeper’s report and an invitation to a special event at the Zoo. Pick an animal to adopt now!

camps-giftguideSpecial Zoo experience

Give the gift of a memorable experience for the special youngster in your life. Special programs like the Junior Rancher Adventure, Snowfari Winter Camp, overnight programs, or Family Zoo Adventures give kids young and old experiences unlike any other.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Elephant introductions: A peek at a very complicated process

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It’s been eight months since we rescued five elephants from Swaziland, Africa, in an intricate airlift to save their lives. Since then, we’ve been introducing the new arrivals – Nolwazi, Amahle, Zola, Tendaji and Mlilo – to our four “Golden Girls,” Jenny, Gypsy, Congo and Kamba.

And believe us, entire NASA expeditions to outer space may have been launched with less care, planning, observation and hard work. Have you ever introduced a new pet to your family? Now imagine it with 10,000-pound animals.

All summer, the nine adult elephants have been in various parts of the Giants of the Savanna habitat, getting to know each other and forming their own complex social bonds. The arrival of calf Ajabu in May brought great joy, but added another layer of complexity to the introductions.

Congo, Kamba, Tendaji and Zola graze together in the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

Congo, Kamba, Tendaji and Zola graze together in the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

Our keepers have monitored the elephants almost around-the-clock. (They even slept in the elephant barn after Ajabu was born, to keep an eye on the little guy.) And our research scientists and volunteers keep detailed notes of all of the interactions, to chart the herd dynamics.

It’s been complex, exhilarating, humbling, emotional, sometimes nerve-wracking – and incredibly rewarding. So we’d like to share just a bit of our daily lives with these remarkable creatures, taken from our team’s observation notes and interviews.

Remember, training occurs simply so we can provide better medical and husbandry care for the elephants. We utilize “protected contact,” not sharing their space, so we let elephants be elephants.

Read more »

Categories: Conservation, Elephant | 2 Comments

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