Author Archives: Chelsey

Meet our newest veterinarian: Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt

Dr. Kleinschmidt tends to a tegu patient at the A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility.

Our veterinarians are proof that not all heroes wear capes. They go above and beyond to provide the highest level of care to our 2000+ animal every single day. From tiny frogs to giant giraffes, Dallas Zoo vets see to their every medical need. Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt is the newest member of our amazing team, making this the largest vet team in Dallas Zoo history. Read on to learn more about Dr. Kleinschmidt, and join us in welcoming her to Dallas!

Where did you grow up? And what was your position before joining the Dallas Zoo vet team?
I grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa (a town just along the border of Iowa and Illinois) and went to Iowa State University for both my undergraduate and veterinary degrees. Before coming to Dallas, I was at Texas A&M University for a zoo-specialty veterinary internship, and then I completed a zoological medicine residency program at the St. Louis Zoo.

Did you always want to be a zoo vet? Tell us a little bit about how you chose this career path.
Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, to be an advocate and voice for animals and their welfare. My mother would tell you that I always chose toy animals over Barbies and had great compassion for our pets and all animals. As I moved on to college, I interned at a small zoo near my hometown on the animal husbandry team and volunteered at the Wildlife Care Rehabilitation Clinic at ISU. I knew by that point that if I was going to be a vet, that becoming a zoo veterinarian was my ultimate goal.

Do you have a favorite animal(s) to work with?
Everyone always asks this question! I truly couldn’t name a sole favorite animal; I love a lot of different species across taxonomic groups. Part of the reason I love this job is that it’s something different every day, whether different species or new procedures. I love that I can work on something as small as a hummingbird up to enormous elephants and giraffe (and everything in between!) in the span of a single day. It keeps life interesting!

What excited you most about joining the Dallas Zoo team?
Coming to the Dallas Zoo, I was most excited that the zoo has a team dedicated to animal behavior and training. They help all animal care teams across the zoo use positive reinforcement training to attain improved husbandry and medical care behaviors. When an animal can choose to participate in a training session with us, for example by allowing us examine the inside of their mouth or the bottoms of their feet, or taking a necessary medication, it makes our job that much easier and most importantly improves the quality of care we can provide to the animals.

What are some of the most thrilling parts of your job? And what are the biggest challenges?
The most exciting part of my job is working with all these amazing animals and providing them the utmost medical care so they live healthy lives and reach their greatest potential. This ultimately promotes conservation of their wild counterparts by giving them the support they need to continue to share their stories with the general public.

In zoological medicine, one of the biggest challenges we face is working with so many species that have vastly different anatomy and physiology. We have to think creatively to come up with new ingenious solutions to care for them all, which can be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of our job as well!

What advice do you have for young aspiring veterinarians?
“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney

If you have decided that you want to be a veterinarian, study hard in school and have an eager mind; being a veterinarian is a commitment to being a lifelong learner. Whether you work in a fast-food restaurant or a veterinary clinic, demonstrate an unfailing work ethic; be that person that goes above and beyond, arrives early and stays late. Your work ethic will serve you well no matter where your journey takes you.

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I love to travel internationally and experience and explore new places and cultures as often as I can. I love swimming, snorkeling, scuba-diving, sailing, boating and anything else by the water! I also enjoy participating in themed 5K races and triathlons, going to theme parks and the theater and spending time with friends and family.

What is a typical day on the job like for a Dallas Zoo vet?
We are lucky at the Dallas Zoo to have a team of four veterinarians who provide care for our animals. We meet each morning to discuss the plans for the day and which veterinarian will cover which medical cases — each day is different! Usually in the mornings, we complete any medical procedures that require anesthesia or include surgery, and in the afternoons, we often make “house calls” to check on other animals around the zoo and fill out medical records.

Categories: Veterinary Care | 1 Comment

3 strange and unusual animal mating rituals you need to know about

Madagascar hissing cockroaches have some pretty wacky mating rituals.

WARNING! This content is NSFW!…we’re only kidding, of course.

Dating and relationships can be complicated, confusing and downright weird. But if you think your significant other is behaving strangely, just wait until you hear about how things go down in the animal kingdom. Seriously though, we’re here to educate. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we thought you needed to know about these three absolutely abnormal animal mating rituals.

Tamanduas

Also known as lesser anteaters, tamanduas use their long snouts to sniff out ant, termite and bee colonies. They can eat up to 9,000 ants in a single day! Their long claws enable them to dig into nests and climb trees, and a long, sticky tongue licks up insects.

Tamanduas are solitary animals, until it’s time to find that special someone.

Tamanduas are solitary animals, until it’s time to find a mate. This typically occurs in the fall, and if the timing isn’t exactly right, tamanduas will either ignore each other completely or begin fighting. Totally relatable, right? Zoologists have to closely monitor their behavior to be sure they introduce the male and female at the exact right time. Then once breeding has completed, they need to be separated again pretty quickly, or else the fighting may continue. Basically, they just want to be left alone.

If successful, tamandua gestation lasts for 130-190 days. Babies are born with a solid-colored coat that looks pretty different from their mother’s, but they have those same large claws.

Our female outreach tamandua, Chispa recently gave birth to little Abrazo, who is cute as can be. Abrazo will ride on his mom’s back for about 6 months, and he’ll stay pretty close to her for about a year before beginning his own solitary life.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches

Madagascar hissing cockroaches aren’t anything like the roaches you may find in your apartment – as their name implies, these creepy-crawlers emit a hissing sound. Most insects that make noises do so by rubbing their body parts together (like crickets). However, the Madagascar hissing cockroach exhales air through spiracles, which are small holes in their abdomens. Male roaches will “hiss” to attract females, and females will emit an odor to let the males know they’re interested.

Once they find each other, the males further express interest by rubbing the antennae of the female. After successful breeding, the female will carry around the egg case, called an “ooethecas,” for a little over 2 months until the nymphs (baby cockroaches) hatch from the case.

Next time you’re at Bug U!, see if you can tell the males from the females — males have two horns on their thorax, and females do not.

Male giraffe will sample the urine of potential mates.

Giraffes

Giraffes are the world’s tallest land animal. Our tallest giraffe stands 17 feet tall! They may be incredibly tall and majestic creatures, but their mating ritual is downright weird. In order to determine if a female giraffe is fertile, the male will taste her urine. That’s right. Since giraffe don’t have a set menstrual/estrous cycle like other animals, this is the only way. Males can detect the females’ hormone levels just by drinking their pee.

Once they know that the timing is right, they’ll follow their girl around for a few days trying to mount her. During this time, he may need to fight off competition! He’ll do this by swinging his impressive long neck around and whacking any other males who get in his way.

The fertile female avoids her suitor for a while, until finally standing still long enough to do the deed. This may occur several times over the course of a few days. Once pregnant, the giraffe calf gestates for over 400 days.


Well there you have it. Did this blog post make you blush? Let us know in the comments.

P.S. If you want to learn even more about mating in the animal kingdom, join us for Love Birds & Wild Things this Saturday, Feb. 16. Our very own Dr. Raines will give you all the shockingly true deets about animal reproduction, plus you’ll get a special Zoo tour, light bites (including chocolate covered strawberries!) and a champagne toast.  Tickets are limited and will go fast! Click HERE to reserve your spot now.

Categories: Giraffe, Social Media, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo helps lead international emergency rescue to save over 1,800 flamingo chicks in South Africa

Two of the rescued lesser flamingo chicks cuddle up at the SPCA in Kimberley, South Africa.

The most urgent, wide-scale rescue of wild lesser flamingo chicks in South Africa is underway after 1,800 chicks were found abandoned at their nesting grounds. The international zoo and aquarium community has joined forces to help save the chicks in a massive rescue operation, sending critical funds and avian experts from across the world to South Africa.

A severe drought has affected Kamfers Dam in Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, causing adult flamingos to abandon their nests, leaving thousands of eggs and chicks behind. With only four breeding colonies of lesser flamingos in Africa and one other in India, Kamfers Dam is one of the most important breeding locations for this species in the world.

Dallas Zoo’s Senior Zoologist Julie Farrington hand feeds a rescued chick.

The Dallas Zoo is leading an emergency rescue effort to funnel funding to South Africa in coordination with the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA). The Dallas Zoo has contributed $18,500 to the rescue effort, and is sending multiple waves of support staff to Kimberley. Animal Care Supervisor Kevin Graham and Senior Zoologist Julie Farrington arrived in Kimberley last week, and Dallas Zoo veterinarian Dr. Marren Connolly and veterinary technician Cassandra Reid arrived Sunday and will remain there for three weeks.

Multiple accredited U.S. zoos and aquariums have also contributed nearly $20,000 to the rescue mission, with donations continuing to roll in. (For individuals who would like to donate to the recovery effort, please do so HERE.)

“If the zoo community had not stepped in to help, it is unlikely these chicks would have survived,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “Flamingos have rarely been treated in any significant numbers by wildlife rehabilitation facilities. Since we are backed with decades of experience in this, our animal care experts are uniquely qualified to assist in hand-rearing these orphaned lesser flamingos. The world’s accredited zoos and aquariums are no doubt at the forefront of lifesaving conservation work, and we will continue to send our experts to the frontlines when animals need help.”

“To see our worldwide community of wildlife conservationists come together to save these birds from near death is remarkable,” said John Werth, Executive Director of the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA). “Zoos and aquariums have the resources and expertise to save species and our swift action to protect these flamingos is proof of that.”

The 1,800 chicks are being cared for at a number of PAAZA accredited zoos and aquariums, plus, certified partners like SANCCOB, as well as, by staff at the SPCA in Kimberley. An international team of conservationists, zoologists, vet staff, and more are working around the clock to bring the chicks up to good health. The ultimate goal is to release the birds that have been successfully rehabilitated back into their natural habitat by late May, so they can rejoin the flock.

“We’re working 12-hour shifts at the SPCA in Kimberley where the youngest and most critically ill flamingo chicks are being cared for,” said Kevin Graham, Dallas Zoo’s Animal Care Supervisor of Birds. “We hand feed the chicks every few hours, and are constantly monitoring their health. We are running on very little sleep but it’s extremely rewarding work knowing we’re keeping these incredible birds alive.”

With nearly 20,000 birds nesting at Kamfers Dam, a significant hit to the flock could pose long-term problems for the population without intervention. Conservationists are working to implement a detailed plan of action for the future, should a rescue mission like this occur again.

Lesser flamingos are currently listed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Species (IUCN), primarily due to habitat destruction and climate change. It is the smallest species of the six species of flamingos in the world. They’re found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and some parts of India.

The Dallas Zoo cares for more than 30 lesser flamingo chicks in the Wilds of Africa section of the zoo.

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

A day in the life of a zookeeper in North Savanna

Witten and his mom enjoy a January day in the North Savanna habitat.

It’s 7 a.m. on a chilly January morning. Lisa Fitzgerald and her team are huddled around a table for their daily status meeting. There were no stops for coffee on their way into work this morning. No hitting the snooze button. No late starts. They can’t. That’s because they have ten hungry giraffe, five kudu, four ostriches and 14 guinea fowl depending on them, regardless of the weather or time of year. But they’re not complaining – they love these animals and are some of the most passionate, dedicated people you’ll ever encounter.

This is an inside look at how just one of our many teams of zookeepers provide the highest level of care to the 2,000-plus animals of the Dallas Zoo – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Get eyes on the animals
The first item on their to-do list in the morning is to get a visual on each and every animal. The team of 12 keepers splits up into two groups – one team handles the giraffe herd, the other takes care of the hoofstock and birds. As they walk their respective barns, the keepers take note of anything that seems off or may have changed overnight. On a chilly night, all the animals remain indoors in their cozy, heated barns.

Keepers preparing morning meals for our giraffe herd.

Breakfast time
Next step is morning meals for everyone. Each species (and in some cases, each individual animal) receives specialized diets according to their needs. Keepers lug huge bowls full of spinach and pellets in for the ostriches at one barn. Simultaneously, another keeper prepares fresh produce for the giraffe in the other barn.

Prep the habitat
The habitats then need to be prepared for the animals to go out for the day, if weather allows. In case of freezing temperatures or inclement weather, most animals will remain in the comfort of their barns. Since the North Savanna is home to several different species, the whole team helps with this step. They walk the entire expansive habitat to check for hazards like fallen trees or litter that may have made its way in. Once that’s done and any hazards have been cleared, they scatter food and enrichment items for the animals to enjoy throughout the day.

Keepers getting the habitat ready for the animals to go out for the day.

Shifting – what is that?
In the world of zookeepers, moving the animals from one place to another is referred to as “shifting.” But this doesn’t happen unless the animals are willing participants. You can’t make a 17-foot tall, 2,500-pound giraffe do anything he doesn’t want to do. Getting animals comfortable with shifting takes time, patience and relationship-building. They’re given tons of positive reinforcement and treats each time they choose to participate.

Shifting four different species is no easy feat, but the keepers have it down to a science. Ostriches are the first out, and they go right to their stations where fresh spinach treats await them. Next are the kudu, who follow suit and wait patiently at their designated station as keepers feed them romaine lettuce. Then come the giraffe who are split into two groups – one goes out to the feeding habitat, and one to the larger Savanna habitat. Both groups are greeted with romaine and carrots to keep them at their stations until all is done. Finally, the guinea fowl follow suit. Once every animal has left the barns, the gates are closed and the animals are free to roam the expansive Savanna and enjoy their day. Keepers then will clean up the barns and prepare for the animals to come back inside at the end of the day.

Beau the kudu receives a lettuce treat (aka positive reinforcement) for choosing to go to his station during shifting.

Wrapping Up
The team may also hold a few animals back to work on training behaviors for routine health checks and more. Training is an essential part of their daily routine and helps reinforce their relationship with the animals they care for. In addition, our keepers contribute to animal research and help develop best practices for accredited zoos around the country. Their days are long but rewarding in every sense.

Once the Zoo is closed to the public, it’s time to bring everyone back inside. Before they know it, the keepers’ ten-hour day is over and they leave “the office” knowing their work has made an impact caring for some of the most majestic animals on earth. They’re excited to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

Categories: Africa, Giraffe, Zookeepers | 3 Comments

Remembering Honeydew

Princess Honeydew enjoys a special birthday treat made by her keepers.

When some of our animals reach retirement age and are no longer comfortable shifting in and out of their habitats, we move them to a special home designed for their comfort, where dedicated keepers care for their every need away from the public eye. Our beloved South American tapir Honeydew lived her golden years behind the scenes where she was pampered daily. She recently passed away due to age-related health issues – and impressively, she lived to be the nation’s oldest tapir in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Honeydew would have celebrated her 38th birthday this month. Lovingly referred to as “Princess” Honeydew, she received the royal treatment from her keepers, who went above and beyond to ensure she had the best possible care throughout her geriatric years. And her birthday is one they’d never forget. Her care team was diligent about making her indulgent birthday cakes each year to show her just how much she was loved. Honeydew was also constantly pampered with brushes, baths, special foot care, leisurely swims in her personal pool, and of course tons of love and attention.

Another fun birthday moment. Just look at that snoot!

Her keepers have shared some of their favorite Honeydew moments as we say farewell to this sweet girl:

  • She would dramatically flop over for belly rubs, which were her favorite.
  • You could tell when she was really happy when she would close her eyes and wrinkle up her snout.
  • She would get wild and excited when it was bath time.
  • Her snoot. It was always moving, smelling, exploring and seeing what trouble she could get into.
  • She LOVED visitors and thrived off of attention. The more we doted on her, the happier Princess Honeydew was.
  • Animals like her define zookeepers. It didn’t matter if you had been her keeper for years or you just met her, she made an impression.

Our keepers were always willing to give her their hearts and do whatever she needed, and we couldn’t be more proud of that! Honeydew will be dearly missed by all of us at the Dallas Zoo.

Categories: Mammals, Zookeepers | 1 Comment

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