Author Archives: Dallas Zoo

Dallas Zoo attracts more than 1 million visitors again

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Fast Crowd v3For the second straight year, we’ve welcomed one million visitors! The milestone was hit a full month earlier than last year, the first time we reached the exclusive mark. This milestone now puts us on pace for the seventh consecutive year of record attendance.

And it’s all thanks to our incredible supporters who we will honor with a “Thanks a Million!” weekend celebration Sept. 17-18. (Details to come in the next few weeks!)

“We appreciate our community’s support so much,” said Gregg Hudson, president and CEO. “More than a million people recognize the efforts we’ve made to become one of the nation’s best zoos. They’re telling their friends that we’re not the zoo of the past, but one that’s leading the future. We can’t wait to see where we’ll end up at the end of our fiscal year in September.”

We welcomed our millionth visitor Saturday night during our first Pokémon Go Night event. More than 5,200 guests flooded the gates starting at 6 p.m., ready to hunt Pokémon throughout the 106-acre park.

This is the second time we’ve welcomed one million visitors in a fiscal year. The previous record was set just last year on Sept. 23. Of the more than 230 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), we join only 30 other zoos to reach more than a million visitors annually.

Several key factors helped us reach this milestone:

  • The March reopening of the Wilds of Africa Adventure Safari. The popular people-mover underwent a $3 million renovation with updated electrical and mechanical systems, a new station, air-conditioning onboard, and more.
  • Elaborate LEGO® brick displays crafted from more than 700,000 bricks called us home from Jan. to April. Nature Connects included larger-than-life sculptures created by award-winning artist Sean Kenney, and a large, tented Stay and Play Brickyard, presented by LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Dallas/Fort Worth.
  • We collaborated with conservation officials in Swaziland, Africa, and two other accredited U.S. facilities to provide a safe haven for 17 African elephants who arrived in March. Wildlife officials in drought-ravaged Swaziland planned to cull the elephants in order to focus on rhino conservation. Five of the elephants found a home in Dallas, and more than two months later, rescued elephant Mlilo gave birth to baby boy Ajabu.
  • Fifth consecutive Certificate of Excellence award as one of the world’s best businesses by TripAdvisor, the largest travel reviewing and planning web site, and maintains a four-star rating on Yelp.
Categories: Media | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Q&A: Dallas Zoo welcomes precious elephant calf

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Elephant calf May17_2016 LH11 logo resized

It’s big news: we’ve welcomed a male African elephant calf, born Saturday, May 14, to Mlilo, one of our elephants rescued from drought-stricken Swaziland. The relocation of these elephants to Dallas in March not only saved Mlilo, but also provided for the survival of this beautiful calf, who will be an excellent ambassador for his species, inspiring guests to help find answers to the grave crisis elephants face in Africa.

“This birth validates the critical importance of our rescue efforts and why we worked so hard to get these animals to safety as quickly as possible,” said Gregg Hudson, our Dallas Zoo president and CEO.

“I shudder to think what would have happened to Mlilo and her calf if this move hadn’t occurred, and without the last six months of food and water we provided while they were in Swaziland, plus the excellent care and nutrition they have received upon their arrival.”

Here’s a Q&A about the birth, a precious ray of hope for African elephants:

Elephant calf May17_2016 LH6 logo resizedHow are mom and baby? They’re doing great, receiving round-the-clock veterinary and keeper care. The baby is active and exploring the barn, although he doesn’t get too far from mom. He’s nursing and vocalizing as expected.

The calf stands about 3 feet tall, and his tiny trunk is just over a foot long. His ears are light pink, contrasting with his darker gray body. He weighs 175 pounds, which is on the low end of the 150- to 300-pound range for newborn African elephants. A low birth weight isn’t surprising, given the difficult conditions in Swaziland during his 22-month gestation.

Does he have a name yet? No, that will come later. Our staff is busy now caring for him and our other nine elephants, but will come up with names reflecting his heritage.

When was he born? Mlilo went into labor Saturday night, May 14. The birth went uneventfully and quickly, and the calf was born naturally at 10:15 p.m.

Were you prepared for the calf? Yes. Since the elephants arrived, our veterinary and keeper teams have constantly monitored all of the elephants, noting Mlilo’s potential pregnancy. Our elephants’ habitat has deep, soft sand, which provided a soft natural landing for the newborn.

Are they being monitored? Absolutely. For those critical first few days after his birth, keepers even stayed around-the-clock in the barn, providing regular updates to the veterinary and nutrition teams. As our elephant experts continue to build trust and develop relationships with the Swaziland elephants, husbandry training will allow more detailed veterinary care.

When did you know Mlilo was pregnant? We had some indications of a possible pregnancy in Swaziland, but hormone testing was inconclusive. Additionally, breeding-age bull elephants in Swaziland had been vasectomized, so the chances of a pregnancy were extremely low. Regardless, we have been very careful with Mlilo’s day-to-day care, and were able to create the positive conditions for a successful birth. Better nutrition for the past two months has helped Mlilo, who’s estimated to be about 14 years old, gain 300 crucial pounds.

_MG_7308-CB logo resizedWho is the father? We don’t know which bull in Swaziland fathered the calf. Wildlife management officials there don’t always witness breeding behavior. And because elephant overpopulation is a challenge in their parks, they performed vasectomies on their bulls. However, elephant contraception isn’t yet perfected; just as in humans, the vasectomy may not always work to prevent pregnancies.

Are any of the other Swaziland elephants pregnant? There are no indications that any are pregnant. Elephants have a 22-month gestation, so it is possible, but not something we’re anticipating.

Does the birth show that Swaziland plans to breed elephants? No. Swaziland’s detailed wildlife plan doesn’t include breeding elephants. Officials there are pursuing efforts, such as the vasectomies, to prevent future births.

Is your staff experienced with elephant husbandry to care for the calf and mother? Yes. Experts on our staff previously have cared for young elephants. We also are collaborating with elephant experts at other AZA-accredited institutions, taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge among that group.

When will guests be able to see them? We don’t know yet. It could be several months, while Mlilo, her calf, and the rest of the herd bond.

Categories: Elephant | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

Dallas Zoo begins construction on $14 million hippo habitat

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The Dallas Zoo is now beginning work on our new $14 million, 2.1-acre Simmons Hippo Outpost, an immersive African waterhole habitat that includes a giant underwater viewing area for these surprisingly hippo1 schematic FULL COLORagile, super-sized “river horses.”

A 24-foot by 8-foot underwater viewing window will bring guests eye-to-nostril with Nile hippos as they explore the 120,000-gallon waterhole. Such close contact will help us teach millions of guests about conservation efforts on behalf of the world’s third-largest land mammal.

Scheduled to open in spring 2017, the Simmons Hippo Outpost will be our first major exhibit since the award-winning Giants of the Savanna opened in 2010.

“The Simmons Hippo Outpost is a perfect bookend to Giants of the Savanna,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo president and CEO. “It’s been 15 years since we had hippos, and our guests have consistently asked us to bring them back. We’re thrilled to be able to do so, after working on this project for several years.”

“This project is another example of why the Dallas Zoo continues to be such a great part of our hippos2 schematic FULL COLORcommunity, as well as an important and innovative piece of my Grow South initiative,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “The support from generous philanthropists is key to the successful public-private partnership between the City and the Zoo. This impressive exhibit is sure to bring even bigger things — and I don’t mean just our new 4,000-pound residents.”

The massive mammals –  one male and two females – will be observed from multiple vantage points. Nearby, an upper-level habitat will provide an enhanced home for our world-renowned okapi herd, red river hogs, and saddle-billed storks. Both habitats will be visible from the elevated monorail, the Wilds of Africa Adventure Safari.

Mary McDermott Cook served as the honorary chair of the Simmons Hippo Outpost campaign, which was funded solely with private donations. A $5 million grant from the Harold Simmons Foundation launched the project.

_MG_1033-4x6“Everyone loves hippos, and we’re proud to be a part of their return to the Dallas Zoo,” said Lisa Simmons, president of the Harold Simmons Foundation. “I remember how much fun it was to see them when I visited the Zoo as a child. Also, we are eager to see an outstanding new exhibit at the Zoo that will enhance the visitor’s experience and understanding of the importance of conservation of wild species and their habitats. We’re honored to support the Zoo’s ongoing commitment to excellence through this project.”

Additional generous donations include:

  • Highland Capital Management LP, $1 million: This donation will build the 4,485-square-foot Highland Capital Lodge for special educational displays and private events.
  • Diane and Hal Brierley, $1 million: The longtime philanthropists and Dallas Zoo supporters are building the Hippo Encounter underwater viewing area, where zookeepers talks also will be held.
  • Eugene McDermott Foundation, $500,000: Longtime supporters of the Dallas Zoo.

“At Highland Capital Management, we invest in the community by supporting organizations that are advancing the Dallas area in unique, influential ways,” said James Dondero, co-founder and president of Highland Capital Management, L.P. “The Zoo is exactly that kind of organization and Highland is proud to assist them in bringing exceptional educational opportunities and experiences like the upcoming exhibit to Dallas.”_MG_1014-4x6

Exclusive donor society created

The Dallas Zoo also has created a special opportunity for donors to put finishing touches on the project. Members of the Kiboko Society will receive exclusive benefits, including permanent recognition within the exhibit. Membership in the Society is a limited-time opportunity, available only until the Simmons Hippo Outpost opens in 2017.

Donor levels for the Kiboko Society are:

  • Hippo – $50,000
  • Okapi – $25,000
  • Saddle-billed Stork – $10,000
Categories: Exhibits and Experiences | Tags: , | 9 Comments

Mourning our beloved Kipenzi

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(UPDATED JULY 31)

We’re overwhelmed by the love you’ve shown today for our little Kipenzi, and to our grieving staff. Because you’ve asked a few specific questions, we wanted to answer them here for you.

1. Are you reviewing what happened? Yes. We are conducting a very thorough review of the incident down to the smallest detail, to examine every aspect and ensure that every opinion is heard. While some members of the media have used the word “investigation,” we believe this implies that we have to figure out what happened, or assign blame, and this is not the case. We were fully staffed and they witnessed every moment except the exact second she hit the wall, so we know what happened; no policies or procedures appear to be violated. However, what we WILL do now, with relentless focus, is examine the accident from every angle to look for ways to keep this from happening again. No one wants to prevent this more than our staff.
2. Will you change the habitat? At this time, we have no plans to do so. The habitat is a world-class design that sets a standard that zoos around the world have followed. Kip was in the smaller area of the Giants of the Savanna because it was safer for her than the big space, where she could get up more speed and would have had to avoid more obstacles, including other animals. This was a tragic, heartbreaking accident, nothing more.
3. Then how was she injured? Calves of all species, from horses to cows to giraffes and gerenuks, love to run around wildly. (Like toddlers.) We can’t put bubble-wrap around them, as much as we’d like to. Yesterday when the Zoo closed, the adult giraffes shifted toward the barn, but Kip and big brother Kopano wanted to play more. They chased each other through the habitat and ran in big loops around it. They got to the end of the habitat and Kopano turned the right way, but Kip instead made a sharp turn into the wall. She was a calf; she played like a calf. This type of thing can happen with any hoofstock, cows and horses included – and in the wild, where giraffes will stumble into depressions, fall, and calves run into trees or even another giraffe.
4. How could that hurt her so badly? A necropsy by our veterinary team this morning confirmed that Kip died from a broken neck – again, unfortunately, not an uncommon injury in giraffes, simply because of the long, slender way their necks are built.
5. Should she have been allowed to run, and was the habitat too small? We were very cautious about allowing Kip (and Kopano and Jamie before her) to grow into the larger yards slowly. Yesterday was no different than any other day since May 1, when Kipenzi first went out. She had been exploring and running in that yard for three months, and that’s essential to her growth and development. We couldn’t pen her up in a small area, despite the risk that she might fall or run into something. However, she was in the feeding yard because it was overall a safer place for her – the large Savanna would have been much riskier. So she was in her “baby gate” kind of place when this unfortunate, freak accident occurred.
6. How are the keepers? Our whole staff, especially our giraffe team, is devastated. We all deeply loved Kipenzi, as you did, and are grieving. However, our team is dedicated, devoted and strong, and we have other animals to care for through our tears. Everyone came to work Wednesday, and even some who were off came in to be here with their colleagues. We brought in counselors to help staffers, too. We have received many condolence gifts, from food to flowers and beautiful artwork, and we appreciate that more than you know.
7. How is Katie, Kip’s mom? Katie is eating normally and is finding comfort from her best giraffe friends, Auggie and Jade. She remains in the barn with a private yard while keepers monitor her closely to be sure she continues to do well. She’ll go back into the large habitat when she indicates that she’s ready.
8. Is the rest of the herd mourning? They are acting normally. Giraffes, while social animals, aren’t as emotionally connected with each other as some other animals, like elephants, primates and whales. In the wild, they must constantly be on alert for predators, so they are hard-wired to move on quickly after the loss of a calf.
9. What happened at the Zoo the next day? Operations were completely normal, and the giraffe herd was out in both areas of the habitat. Nothing was different because this doesn’t seem to be a mistake or an error on anyone’s part. It was a terrible accident, and a not-uncommon one in hoofstock.
10. Will there be a memorial at the Zoo for Kipenzi? We are definitely considering how to best honor her memory. Because she was such a remarkable ambassador for her species and for conservation – helping to raise more than $35,000 for our partner in Africa, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation – we chose to first suggest donations to that group. (Donate here: www.giraffeconservation.org) We need time to figure out what other memorial we wish to set up, but we will keep you posted here.
11. Will you have more giraffe calves? We are part of the national Species Survival Plan for giraffes, and will continue to breed when recommended.
12. What is Kip’s legacy? Kipenzi was undoubtedly the most recognized giraffe in the world, and her birth live on Animal Planet captivated millions. From the anticipation of her arrival to her first moments standing and her introduction into the Savanna habitat, Kip continued to melt hearts and bring attention to her species, whose population in the wild has been reduced significantly in recent years. The supportive emails, tweets and Facebook posts we’ve received and responded to throughout Kip’s life could fill volumes – she truly was a household name, and people connected with her deeply.

When you voted for her name online, you were given an opportunity to donate to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Those donations raised $35,000 to help protect her “cousins” in Africa. Following her passing, Kip continues to bring awareness to her endangered species, and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation has been flooded with more donations in her honor to help the plight of giraffes. Kip’s gave the public a front-row seat into the delivery and care of giraffes, all while inspiring conversations about what we all can do to save them in the wild. We’ve heard from parents whose children were enthralled with seeing a live animal birth right from their living room, classrooms who started research projects on giraffes in the wild, and guests who flew across the country to see the giraffe who was an inspiration for all ages – the stories are incredible. We will always cherish the light Kip was to so many, and her role as an ambassador for conservation will not be forgotten.

13. Will you continue to update us? Yes, of course. We appreciate your support so much. And we operate from a position of transparency, because we’re proud of the work we do and how we provide for animals in our care. We will respond as much as we can, but please understand that given the enormous outpouring of love, it is difficult to respond individually. But know that we are reading every single comment, and that they are helping us get through this difficult time.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Giraffe, Media, Social Media, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , | 63 Comments

Dallas Zoo devastated by loss of wildly popular giraffe calf

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Kipenzi takes a break in the giraffe feeding yard July 10, 2015.

Kipenzi in the giraffe feeding yard July 10, 2015.

Accident claims Kipenzi, whose live birth in April mesmerized the world

The Dallas Zoo is devastated to announce the death this evening of Kipenzi, the giraffe calf whose birth on Animal Planet Live captured the hearts of people worldwide.

“This is a huge loss for our giraffe herd, our staff and our guests,” said Gregg Hudson, president and CEO of the Dallas Zoo. “To be honest, it hurts terribly. We’re crushed, and everyone here is mourning. Please keep our staff in your thoughts.”

Keepers were routinely shifting the giraffe herd into their night barn just after 5:30 p.m. when the gangly calf began to scamper about the feeding yard, as she has done since her public debut on May 1. She made a sharp turn and ran into the perimeter edge of the habitat. Preliminary results indicate three broken vertebrae in her neck, and that she died immediately.

“Running is a typical behavior for giraffes of all ages, especially young ones like Kipenzi,” said Harrison Edell, the zoo’s senior director of living collections. “We’ve been very cautious with where we’ve allowed Kipenzi to roam, as we were with her siblings Kopano and Jamie when they were small. It’s heartbreaking that this happened where it did despite our precautions.”

Her mother, Katie, visited Kipenzi before veterinarians and keepers removed her.

On May 1, Kipenzi made her first official public debut in the zoo’s giraffe feed yard with Katie and “Uncle” Auggie. Since then, Kipenzi had explored the habitat regularly. She was the third giraffe calf raised in the Giants of the Savanna habitat since its opening in 2010.

Kipenzi’s birth caught the attention of animal-lovers worldwide after the Dallas Zoo and Animal Planet launched the joint project GIRAFFE BIRTH LIVE this spring on the Animal Planet L!VE streaming video site. Millions of people fell in love with Kipenzi after she made her debut April 10 in front of adoring fans on Animal Planet and Animal Planet L!VE. The “Giraffe Birth Live” TV special on Animal Planet drew 1.4 million viewers on April 11, and the live birth saw more than 2 million streams on APL.tv.

Given the groundswell of love for Kipenzi since her birth, the Dallas Zoo encourages guests to post photos of Kipenzi or leave messages of support for staff on its Facebook and Instagram pages. For those interested in donating in Kipenzi’s memory, the Dallas Zoo recommends The Giraffe Conservation Foundation, our partner at the forefront of protecting giraffes in Africa. Click here to make a donation.

Categories: Africa, Giraffe | Tags: , , , | 34 Comments

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