Author Archives: Destinie Berry

Texans come together to save our state reptile

Although Texas horned lizard populations are increasing thanks to community efforts, there is still work to be done.

Head west on I-20, and in no time, you’ll notice large, red formations of sedimentary rock standing like mountains amid the mostly flat, arid earth and rolling plains. This is Rotan, Texas  – far from the impressive view of Downtown Dallas’ protruding skyscrapers. Here you’ll find many creatures that dominated these parts in the days of the Wild West still making their homes. However, the thousands of snakes, lizards and insects that are all well adapted to survive these harsh conditions, are no longer thriving as in those days not long ago.

Recently, a group of Dallas Zoo staff members, interns and volunteers took the drive to the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch to study one reptile who has made the ranch its home – the native and beloved Texas horned lizard. The facility was established in 2007 for the purpose of enhancing the abundance of the northern bobwhite, a ground-dwelling quail native to the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch preserves 4,720 acres of land to maintain the natural brush cover necessary for quail conservation efforts. This undeveloped land is the ideal setting for the scaly Texas horned lizard. The brush cover provides shelter from predators, which is essential, as their toad-like bodies tend to slow them down.

Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Rotan, Texas

“The area is managed for quail, with shortgrass and tallgrass prairie land, which is also vital to horned lizards and their prey, harvester ants. Horned lizards live in a similar niche as quail and benefit from the preservation of this land, as do many other animals,” Dallas Zoo reptile keeper, Shana Fredlake observes. “This is native habitat for these animals, so keeping it pristine helps this population stay stable and helps us observe their natural behaviors and monitor growth rates.”

Although the horned lizard was their primary focus, the group was also delighted by the company of a few tarantulas and snakes, even stumbling across a rattlesnake; a real treat for Dallas Zoo reptile supervisor, Bradley Lawrence who has a special fondness for the noisy, venomous reptile. Lawrence believes the conservation work being done today has also benefitted other reptile species native to Texas.

“Most folks in Texas will do anything they can to protect, donate and manage land for horned lizards. They don’t know it, but this helps conserve other species that are not looked on as favorably,” Lawrence shares.

Our research team studied Texas horned lizards in hopes of restoring their population.

The community’s willingness to pitch in and help the conservation of the Texas horned lizard is promising, but much work still needs to be done. Despite conservation efforts to reverse the decline of the species, the horned lizard remains state-threatened.

“The Texas horned lizard has disappeared from about 60% of its former range here in Texas due to invasive fire ants, over-collection, and habitat destruction,” Lawrence adds. Despite the numbers, he remains hopeful for the species: “They are charismatic, gentle reptiles, and everyone that sees them falls in love.”

“It makes me happy to see Texas have a state reptile and that people love this reptile,” Fredlake says. “If we can coexist without destroying every part of their habitat, there is a chance to bring them back to all parts of their former range.”

By studying population density, habitat preference, diet, sex ratios, and activity patterns, we’ve developed a greater scientific understanding of our state reptile and how to best contribute to its conservation. For more information about our Texas horned lizard conservation efforts, click here.

Categories: Conservation, Reptiles and Amphibians | Leave a comment

Celebrating one year with our Somali wild ass foals

Middle Wilds of Africa keeper Laura Burleson guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

All babies grow up – and entirely too quickly! It’s hard to believe that our two critically endangered Somali Wild Ass foals, Kalila and Naima, are now a year old. In that time, they have grown, experienced, and learned so much.

From the day the foals were born (really from about five minutes after birth) they were spunky, energetic, and so full of life and personality. Their moms, Liberty and Hani, and their Aunt Qamar were born and raised in zoos, but they are still a bit wary of keepers and spook easily in new situations. We, at the Dallas Zoo, have never had the opportunity to work with Somali Wild Ass from birth, so we were really excited to have the opportunity to build a strong connection with them. This relationship building is so important since we work with our animals very closely every day – it forms the foundation for us to be able to provide enrichment to them in multiple ways throughout their lifetimes.

The first step was working on socialization with the keepers, and as with myself, the key to their hearts was through their stomachs. Once they started eating solid food, we were able to hand feed them treats through the fence, building a trust that approaching their keepers meant yummy treats were on the way! After that, we started doing small bits of work getting the foals used to being physically touched by keepers. They were very tolerant of touches on their noses, but nervous of it on any other part of their bodies. Our real challenge came this spring, when the foals were due for their annual vaccinations. We had an ambitious goal in mind: voluntary hand injections. This meant that we wanted to get the foals to a point that we could have them lined up at the fence with their hip presented, and be given their vaccinations by the vets in a way that was minimally painful and stressful for them. The most nerve-wracking part was scratching their rears to see how they would react to that touch — and we were all a bit surprised when they loved it! With a lot of hard work and patience, we successfully reached our goal and were able to give the foals all of their vaccines with zero stress and pain for them.

Our Somali Wild Ass foal enjoying an ice treat in honor of her first birthday!

When the foals were about 7 months old, we decided it was time for them to meet the other species that call the Desert exhibits home. At the Dallas Zoo, we take a lot of pride in our mixed-species exhibits. One of the best parts about having multiple species living together is that this provides a lot of mental stimulation and social enrichment. Imagine spending all your time with one group of friends…definitely not as fun as having lots of different people to interact with!

The foals met our male Ostrich, Newman, first, then the Gemsbok, and lastly the Addax herd. The Asses are, to put it nicely, giant troublemakers. The Addax also like to mess with the Asses a lot. The combination of those two personalities and some very over-protective mothers creates the potential for some major antics. Luckily, everyone very quickly learned to give each other space, and all is well in the Semi-arid world.

While the foals have quadrupled in size from birth, when I was able hold them both in my arms for their checkups, their sassy little personalities have not changed a bit. I grow more and more attached to them every day and cannot wait to continue watching them grow, learn, and develop. And maybe one day they will have foals of their own that will steal the hearts of the world, and inspire people to want to make a change for conservation in their native habitat.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Monorail Safari | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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