Author Archives: Travis Hudson

‘Rockstar’ cooperative cat aides Zoo medical study

Pull, poke and squeeze a cat’s tail, and you may not like the results – but Lakai, the Dallas Zoo’s 7-year-old mountain lion, isn’t like most cats.

He doesn’t mind having his tail prodded and squeezed, and it’s helping zookeepers and veterinarians explore a lesser-known medical field.

Zoo staff are taking blood pressure readings on Lakai’s tail using an inflating cuff, similar to one used on humans. The readings will help monitor his well-being and track data in a medical area without a lot history.

“There is very little data on blood pressure on awake mountain lions. The majority of blood pressures are taken on mountain lions while anesthetized,” said Dianna Lydick, manager of the zoo’s A.H. Meadows Animal Care Facility.

Lakai’s blood pressure training and readings are generating interest and buzz internally and throughout the zoo community nationwide.

“There are definitely people wanting this information,” said keeper Libby Hayes, adding that any time you can avoid aestheticizing an animal for medical treatments, it’s better for the animal.

To get to this point, Hayes and keeper Caron Oliver worked on tail training with Lakai every week starting in May. Over time, the mountain lion became comfortable staying in position, allowing keepers to grab his tail, prod it with a needle for blood draws and squeeze it tightly to take the blood pressure readings.

All aspects of the tail training is voluntary and done with positive reinforcement. If Lakai doesn’t want to participate, he doesn’t have to. Luckily, he doesn’t mind trying new things, Oliver said.

Categories: Mountain lion, Veterinary Care | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Dallas Zoo, city unveil new elephant-statue gateway

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Connecticut-based artist Peter Busby stands with his sculpture Two Elephants Greeting at the Dallas Zoo on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.

Visitors will now receive a taste of Africa before stepping on Zoo grounds with Two Elephants Greeting, a new steel sculpture unveiled today at the corner of Marsalis Ave. and the I-35E frontage road.

The sculpture joins our iconic 67-foot giraffe sculpture greeting visitors entering the Zoo’s main parking lot.

The sculpture shows two larger-than-life African elephants with intertwined trunks – a symbol of a solid, loving bond, and a greeting often seen expressed by our elephants. The elephants stand on a berm surrounded by drought-tolerant native grasses and plants.

“It will greet all visitors that come to the Zoo in a monumental way,” said Kay Kallos, Public Art Program manager for the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.

The sculptures weigh 1,800 pounds each and are the work of Connecticut-based artist Peter Busby. The installation is part of a City of Dallas Public Art Program contest that received more than 200 sculpture designs from all over the world vying for the space, which formerly housed a used car lot.

“It seemed as a friendly introduction to the zoo,” said Busby. “Like what you hope to see inside.”

Busby created the elephants at his Connecticut workshop before hauling them to Texas in September for the installation, but this isn’t his first time bringing massive sculptures to the Lone Star State. He also designed and installed two 16-foot-tall longhorn sculptures at the Cypress Waters office park in Dallas and a pair of supersized horses at a ranch in Plano.

Thank you to Busby and the City of Dallas for giving us such a life-size representation of love between African elephants. We look forward to enjoying the statues for decades to come.

Categories: Exhibits and Experiences, Horticulture | 2 Comments

Zoo-based AmeriCorps member looks to engage community, build relationships

_mg_6601-ben-beckley-americorpsMy name is Ben Beckley, and I am here through the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program. AmeriCorps is like the domestic version of the Peace Corps. The mission of VISTA is to alleviate poverty and build capacity for self-sustaining movements within the community. It’s uncommon to have a VISTA working at a zoo rather than a more direct service non-profit, but Dallas Zoo’s education department wants to be more involved with its surrounding communities through outreach programs. The AmeriCorps program allows them to do that, while also tending to its own goal of alleviating poverty.

I moved to DFW from Indiana with an English degree from Ball State University. This Hoosier ended up here because it seemed like the job I would enjoy the most out of the available AmeriCorps project sites. So far, that belief has held firm. It has been a wonderful ride.

Over the next year, I am creating a project partnering with schools and organizations in Oak Cliff. The reason for targeting Oak Cliff is twofold: for one, the community has a huge disparity of wealth – where one street has rundown houses and broken sidewalks, and the next one over has million-dollar abodes with well-manicured lawns. Two, Oak Cliff is in the Zoo’s neighborhood, and serves as a good starting point for the revitalization of the community outreach program.

My project aims to educate young and old learners and provide opportunities for work and life experience through community action – like litter clean-up, habitat revitalization or a community garden. I also aim to build a community volunteer service that will continue educating and working after I leave. My second function here is a youth volunteer coordinator. This includes revising evaluation methods, working with the volunteers and finding ways to expand the Zoo’s volunteer program in new and exciting ways.

The connection between the Zoo and alleviating poverty might seem thin at this point, so let me elaborate. I am working with mostly primary and middle school youth to help them learn about conservation and community involvement in conjunction with what they are learning in school. With the AmeriCorps position, I am not directly servicing the community, but “building capacity.” This means instead of telling them what to do, I give am giving the community the tools to make a difference as they see fit.

For this project, I’m using a framework called Roots & Shoots. It’s a student-driven exercise crafted by the Jane Goodall Institute that lets kids take charge of the project and steer it through community research and classroom discussions. Ideally, the students’ parents will be involved, so they can take the project to their neighborhoods and start the movement of change throughout the community.

All in all, there is still a lot to do with the project, and it will be a few years before we begin noticing tangible results. However, I am ecstatic to be here to get it started. I have had nothing but a warm reception from all my coworkers in the Zoo, and it certainly has felt like the right fit for me. I look forward to continuing my tenure here! And please, if you have any questions or just want to chat, feel free find me in the Children’s Zoo.

Categories: Education | Leave a comment

New roomies: Planning, patience required for nyala, red river hog introductions

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Middle Wilds of Africa keeper Jessi Vigneault guest-blogs on Zoohoo!

Just as if you were to put groups of Longhorns and Aggies in a room, getting a nyala herd to coexist peacefully with a sounder of red river hogs can have its challenges, especially when males are involved (sorry, guys).

The Dallas Zoo wanted a new home for its male and two female red river hogs, and the nyala antelope habitat had some extra room to share. Both are African species, although they inhabit different parts of the continent. This new pairing required habitat modifications, new animal training, and a slow, very closely monitored introduction. Ultimately, it would be up to the animals to decide if it would work or not.

The habitat was great for our bachelor herd of four nyala, but it wasn’t quite ready for the rooting and digging habits of hogs, so underground rebar was added to reinforce the fencing. A log and rock barrier was built around the exhibit’s large pond, to prevent the hogs from falling in. And we constructed a concrete drinking bowl for the hogs, because they tend to play with anything light enough to move, including rubber water bowls.

A nyala and red river hog share an inquisitive moment on the first day of face-to-face intros. (Image: Mammal Curator Keith Zdrojewski)

A nyala and red river hog share an inquisitive moment on the first day of face-to-face intros. (Image: Mammal Curator Keith Zdrojewski)

With the habitat ready, we worked on avoiding possible conflict at the gates when the animals “shifted” in and out between the exhibit and their night quarters. We ring a bell and reward the nyala with their favorite treats at the bottom of the exhibit. They quickly learned to come toward the bell when rung. This training provided us a method to pull the nyala away from the top shifting gate when the hogs would be let through.

The next step of the introduction was getting the hogs comfortable and familiar with the area before meeting the nyala. Using a corral made of cattle panels covered with boards and wire mesh, the habitat was divided in half and the hogs were given time to acclimate to each side. We introduced them to their own shifting cue by honking a horn and rewarding them when they shifted in and out.

Though the hogs and nyala can see each other in their night quarters, we also gave them a chance to see and smell each other up close with the protection of the corral. We believed this interaction would give some indication of how the two groups would co-exist. There was some interest from both groups, but no aggressive behaviors were observed, and they soon ignored each other. This was a good sign, so we decided to move forward.

Log piles and large branches were placed around the habitat, so animals being chased would have something to put between them and their pursuer. The corral panels were removed to open the space up so individuals couldn’t be trapped.

It can be hard to predict how animals will react during new introductions and we always prepare for incidents, but this went extremely well. There were a couple of brief disagreements, but no chasing or serious altercations. As a result, the hogs now enjoy spending time in a new home with new friends.

Letting the animals become accustomed to their new surroundings and the sight and smell of other animals before putting them together help ensure successful introductions, and we greatly appreciate the patience of our visitors during this process. Next time you visit the Dallas Zoo, be sure to ride the Adventure Safari monorail and see how the nyala and red river hogs are doing together!

Categories: Mammals, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Dallas Zoo wins international award for protecting wild gorillas

The Dallas Zoo and eight other Association of Zoos & Aquariums institutions have been recognized with a prestigious national award for conservation work protecting gorillas in the wild.

We received AZA’s 2016 International Conservation Award for our work with GRACE – the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center. GRACE was created in 2009 to protect Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s the only facility of its kind in the world.

The conservation award recognizes exceptional efforts toward habitat preservation, species restoration and support of biodiversity in the wild. We received the award in collaboration with Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Houston Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Nashville Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo and Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

The Dallas Zoo is a longtime supporter of GRACE financially, through volunteer work and donations. Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregggracve-award Hudson serves on GRACE’s board of directors and Mammal Curator Keith Zdrojewski is on the organization’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group. Last year, Zdrojewski traveled to the DRC to help GRACE design and build a corridor for the endangered gorillas.

“This award reinforces our commitment to conservation of animals all across the globe,” Hudson said. “Grauer’s gorillas are some of the most endangered animals on the planet, and the GRACE Project is playing a vital role in keeping these remarkable animals around for generations to come. We look forward to continuing to support these gorillas alongside this dedicated conservation group, as we do with partners around the world.”

Did you know: Our support of the gorillas’ rehabilitation in the DRC isn’t possible without the support of our community and the million-plus visitors who walk through our gates every year. The Dallas Zoo is non-profit organization, and a portion of every ticket purchased supports our conservation fieldwork partners, helping protect wild animals and wild places worldwide. We thank you, and so do the Grauer’s gorillas and other wildlife.

Categories: Conservation, Gorilla | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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