Reptile Supervisor Bradley Lawrence guest-blogs on ZooHoo!
This guest-blog is part of a series. Click here to read Part I!
Springtime is never boring on the rolling plains of Texas. Our latest expedition to the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in search of Texas horned lizards (aka “horny toads”) started a little rough. We arrived just in time to get an hour or so of searching in before we were forced to call it quits for the evening due to weather. The storms were severe enough to produce baseball-size hail and at last one tornado within 5 miles of us. We spent a little time in the much appreciated storm shelter.
The next morning was very wet, windy and a little cold – not a good combination for finding Texas horned lizards, but the afternoon finally warmed up, and the day turned out to be very nice. We’ve found that when conditions are sub-optimal, we tend to see only young lizards and old lizards that are thin, injured or less than prime specimens. My personal feeling is that the adult animals that are in good condition simply wait bad days out until a better one comes along. They can afford not to feed for a few days or even weeks at a time.
When we catch a lizard, we immediately start to log a GPS location. While this is happening, we measure the total length of the animal, weigh them, and record the surface temperature and UV index at the point where we initially spotted the lizard. A small electronic “chip” is placed in the lizard so we can track home range, growth, and population density. These and some other observations are all recorded in a handheld computer/GPS. This whole process takes about 5 min. Then the lizard is released, no worse for wear, right where it was found.
Our lizard sightings are getting more frequent as spring
turns into summer – these little lizards are doing very well here. We even
found our first gravid (that means pregnant or egg-carrying in reptile-speak)
lizard of the season. We love to see reproduction in the wild! A large female is
able to lay 40+ eggs at a time. We will start to see this year’s hatchlings
toward the end of July and into August.
The Dallas Zoo is proudly welcoming a Nile hippopotamus
calf born Tuesday, May 14, around 6:30 p.m. to 12-year-old mom Boipelo after an
gestation. Both mom and calf are doing well – labor lasted roughly seven hours,
and the calf was observed nursing just two hours after birth. The animal care
team was able to observe labor and delivery via the hippo barn’s closed-circuit
camera to give mom privacy.
“We timed Boipelo’s contractions every moment she barrel rolled in the water, and after about 100 rolls, we saw a baby emerge,” said Matt James, Dallas Zoo’s Senior Director of Animal Care. “The baby immediately began moving and kicking and Boipelo swiftly nudged it to the ledge of the pool, where the baby sprawled out and took a break. Boipelo has been very attentive, gently nudging the calf to the surface for air after each nursing session. Hippo calves need to come up every 30 seconds to breathe, and she’s doing a great job ensuring the baby is getting everything it needs. ”
The zoo’s veterinary and animal care experts
have prepared for the calf’s arrival since January, when they first preformed a
successful ultrasound on 2,420-pound Boipelo. In 2018, the Dallas Zoo became the first U.S.
zoo to capture serial fetal growth images on a pregnant hippo through voluntary
The team performed weekly ultrasounds capturing images of the baby’s
heart, chest cavity, head, feet, and other body parts. With very few high-quality
images of hippo fetal growth in zoos, Dallas Zoo’s experts have built a
foundation of growth norms to share with other institutions accredited by the
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
“Performing ultrasounds on hippos has always been challenging because of
the sheer size of the animal. Being able to successfully track this baby’s
growth is really a testament to the relationships the zoologists have built
with Boipelo,” said Jan Raines, D.V.M.,
Dallas Zoo’s associate veterinarian. “After the tragic loss of our male hippo Adhama last October, the
zoologists went above and beyond to provide Boipelo with the emotional support
she needed. I know the bonds they’ve formed have really helped during our
Boipelo and Adhama were paired together on an AZA Species Survival Plan
breeding recommendation shortly before Adhama passed away.
In February 2018,Boipelo
lost her first calf moments after delivery – the calf never took a breath due
to its lungs not fully inflating.
“We have gone through great loss to get to this remarkable moment of
welcoming a healthy hippo calf,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and
CEO. “Our animal care team and our female hippo are nothing short of resilient.
We are grateful to have Adhama’s legacy live on in this new baby.”
Over the past six months, zoologists have observed very positive
behaviors in Boipelo as she’s grown into her independence.
“Boipelo has really come out of her shell; this time of adjustment has been
very important for her,” said John Fried, Dallas Zoo’s mammal curator. “She’s
developed her own personality and has gained a lot confidence that will surely
contribute to giving her newborn the best care possible.”
In the wild, hippos live in social settings for greater protection from
predators. In order to replicate the most natural environment for Boipelo, the
animal care team will bring in another male hippo later this year from an
Native to sub-Saharan Africa, hippos are listed as a vulnerable species by
the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss,
and poaching for their meat and ivory-canine teeth.
The Dallas Zoo opened its $14 million award-winning
Simmons Hippo Outpost in April 2017. The habitat features an immersive African waterhole with
a 120,000-gallon pool and a 24 by 8-foot underwater viewing window. The habitat
also includes a herd of critically endangered okapi that guests can learn about
up close in daily keeper chats.
Boipelo and her calf remain behind the scenes where they are bonding privately. The zoo will announce their public debut in the coming weeks, along with the baby’s name and gender. In the meantime, guests are encouraged to visit the red river hogs who are currently in the habitat, with the okapi nearby.
In January, the Dallas Zoo was part of an unprecedented rescue effort after 1,800 lesser flamingo chicks were abandoned at their nesting grounds due to severe drought. But the work was far from over. Animal care professionals have worked tirelessly over the past four months to nurse the chicks back to health, and this week the Dallas Zoo helped lead a team in Kimberley, South Africa in the release of 49 of those chicks back into the wild. The rescue, rehabilitation, and release of these birds has never been done before, until now.
The drought 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.
The Dallas Zoo led the effort to funnel emergency funding to South Africa in coordination with the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA), sending more than $52,000 from U.S. zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). In addition, AZA-accredited institutions sent 53 of their top U.S. animal care experts and vet teams to help in the mission. The Dallas Zoo contributed $18,500, sent ten of its staffers, and funded the trips for five additional experts to lend their support. Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation, is there now to assist in the release.
intense relief right now knowing a release of this magnitude has never been
done before,” said Edell. “It was a massive undertaking to rescue these
flamingos, get them healthy, prepare them to reenter the wild, and then watch
them go. The zoo community really stepped up to make this happen and help keep
these birds alive.”
The 49 birds
were the first group to be released back into Kamfers Dam after they were
deemed the most fit for the initial release. Animal caretakers have worked
around-the-clock to keep the hundreds of birds alive.
“It’s been a
delicate balance – since January, we’ve worked hands-on with the chicks to keep
them fed and healthy, but as they’ve grown, we needed to be hands off to ensure
they did not imprint on us. We needed to know that they were not interested in
people, and only birds, before they were cleared for release,” said Edell.
also went through a physical health exam, and was given a leg band and microchip
before the release. A few chicks will remain in human care, including one that
is blind and a few with wing injuries. Those not fit for survival in the wild
will become ambassadors of their species at PAAZA-accredited zoos.
more flamingo chicks are set to be released in the coming weeks.
incredible to release our first flock and see them walk toward the other 20,000
wild adult flamingos at Kamfers Dam, and just fit right in. We hope they
continue to thrive,” said Edell.
experts will travel to South Africa to see the final releases through, and U.S.
officials will continue to be a sounding board on the project to ensure future
success for all of the birds.
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.
We’re celebrating the births of two western lowland gorillas! Join in the celebration by purchasing this special package, which includes two plush gorillas, a personalized adoption certificate, a Zookeeper’s Report, and a full color photo. Adopt a gorilla today!
Pack a picnic and head to the Zoo on May 11 for a rockin’ Mother’s Day at Safari Nights Presented by Reliant! Start your evening with special keeper chats and animal encounters, then enjoy live music with the Stoneleighs. Purchase tickets now.
Treat Mom to the experience of a lifetime! Backstage Safari is a 90-minute tour of the Zoo with special behind-the-scenes access. Our zoologists will give you the scoop on the animals they care for every day, and you’ll get to hand-feed an okapi! Reserve your spot now.
Reptile Supervisor Bradley Lawrence guest-blogs on ZooHoo!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (like our state reptile was during the winter months), you know how much we love Texas horned lizards here at the Dallas Zoo. Last weekend we began our 10th year of studying “horny toads” at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Fisher Co, Texas.
The population in this area of Texas is very healthy, and we
have been monitoring them for 9 years now. We are gathering as much data as we
can to help us learn what makes a habitat like this so good for horned lizards.
We hope to use what we learn to help conserve these fabulous reptiles both in
the wild and in our care here at the Dallas Zoo.
Over the next several months, we’ll be providing up-to-date notes from the field to give y’all a first-hand look at what we do. I hope that you will learn more about the Texas horned lizard as well as how they fit into the bigger ecological picture here in Texas.
The RPQRR is a 4700-acre ranch about 4 hours west of Dallas.
Along with horned lizards, we get to experience a rare glimpse of wild Texas
that is more and more difficult to find these days.
We start our lizard season in late April or early May, giving them a chance to wake up from their roughly 5 month hibernation. Once they’re awake they start looking for much needed food and also start to think about finding a mate.
We had a very productive first outing. We saw several very healthy looking horned lizards, even though we fought Mother Nature a bit. Spring weather in the rolling plains of Texas can be unpredictable and a little scary.
Stay tuned! We’ll give you more in a couple of weeks.
There’s so much going on at the Dallas Zoo, we had to start a blog to tell you about it all. Have an idea for a story or a question for us? Email Info@DallasZoo.com and put “ZooHoo!” in the subject line.