Author Archives: Lydia

Dallas Zoo welcomes another baby gorilla! 

Baby gorilla playdates will be endless this year at the Dallas Zoo! We are welcoming our second baby gorilla born in 21 years – and the second born in just the last year.

A close-up of Megan’s baby./Senior Zoologist Annie B.

Our 13-year-old critically endangered western lowland gorilla Megan quietly delivered the infant in the early morning on Thursday, March 7. This is Megan’s first time raising a baby and both are doing well; Megan has been very attentive, and the baby is nursing often and is keeping a strong grip on mom.

This birth brings another new wave of excitement for the Dallas Zoo – this is the first time we’ve cared for two baby gorillas at the same time in almost 50 years. Nearly nine-month-old gorilla Saambili (born June 25, 2018 to mom Hope) now has a half-sibling playmate, and she’s already shown much interest in the newest addition.

“Gorilla conservation is a huge part of Dallas Zoo’s mission – we’ve been unwavering in our commitment to save them in the wild, and now we’re contributing more than ever to their protection in human care,” said Gregg Husdon, Dallas Zoo’s President and CEO. “We’ve gone from not having an infant gorilla for two decades, to now having two babies back-to-back, and it truly shows the dedication and perseverance of our world-class animal experts.”  

Mom Megan was paired with silverback Subira (also the father to Saambili) on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation in hopes of increasing the western lowland gorilla population in North America. Subira has proven to be an excellent father to Saambili, and he’s recently been observed giving her special attention and playtime during this quiet period for the troop.

“This is the most ideal social situation for our troop – both of our babies will be able to learn, grow, and play together,” said Linda King, Dallas Zoo’s Primate Supervisor. “This is also a big moment for mom Megan who has been extremely interested in Saambili since day one. She now has the wonderful opportunity to raise a baby of her own.”

Megan holds her sleeping baby./Lead Zoologist Tara S.

The Dallas Zoo cares for ten gorillas, including the bachelor troop who live on the south side of the Gorilla Trail, and the family troop who live on the north side. All six family troop members have remained behind the scenes so Megan and her baby can bond privately. Zoologists will take their cues from Megan on her comfort level and readiness to explore the habitat. A moniker and the baby’s gender reveal will come within the coming weeks.

According to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, there are approximately 350,000 western lowland gorillas left in Africa. The population decline is contributed to habitat destruction, poaching for bush meat, animal trafficking, and disease.

Native to the Congo Basin, western lowland gorillas are the smallest of the subspecies and the least critically endangered. There are roughly 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas, 880 mountain gorillas, and 300 Cross River gorillas remaining in the wild.

With nearly 300 western lowland gorillas living in AZA-accredited zoos, the nation’s top zoos have never been more committed to protecting this species in human care and in their native habitat. The Dallas Zoo has supported gorilla conservation for many years through its partners at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE).

Our animal care team aims for Megan and her baby to make their first scheduled public appearance by the end of the week (weather dependent). We will share the date on our social media channels!

Categories: Africa, Gorilla | 3 Comments

FIELD NOTES PART I: Saving African penguins in South Africa

Kevin Graham examines the artificial nests at the nest manufacturing factory.

Animal Care Supervisor of Birds and the Artificial Nest Development Project Coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Kevin Graham, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

Our time caring for the 1,800 rescued little stinky grey and fluffy birds (a.k.a. flamingos) came to an end yesterday, and we’ve moved on to the bigger stinky black and white birds (a.k.a African penguins). We’re about to depart on helicopter to Bird Island, where we’ll make about a half-dozen trips back and forth to the deserted island that will be our home for the next four days. This is where we’ll install hundreds of artificial nests for the penguins to safely lay their eggs in and rear their offspring.

But first, we worked on an incredible side project today at the penguin nest manufacturing facility in Cape Saint Francis, South Africa. I was able to inspect the work being done, and talk with the folks who have been building the nests, since the manufacturing site opened up a little over a month ago. This site is being coordinated under the watchful eye of Trudi Malan of Dyer Island Conservation Trust. This location is currently home to many tons of raw materials that are being converted into penguin nests at a rate of about 20 nests per day. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, these nests are 100% made by hand and have a very specific formulation of products that has to be prepared and a significant amount of materials that have to be worked in the exact order in order to properly build the nests.

The construction team builds the nests, which involves a very detailed process.

The team members that are building the nests have not only become very efficient and skilled at the process, they’ve also begun to understand that the project they are assisting with is destined to make an improvement in the lives of an endangered species. These team members have a strong and growing pride in the work that they are doing and it shows. For many of them, this job is helping them learn new skills and offers them financial assistance. But more than that, they see their role of building the nests as a part of a bigger picture that can potentially save the lives of birds that desperately need help.

To construct the nests, they begin with preparing the Sealmac geotextile fabric cutouts, which will be used as the skeleton of the nest construction process. These individual pieces of geotextile fabric are then thoroughly impregnated in a ceramic slurry composed of a very specific ratio of several compounds. If the ratio of compounds is out of balance by even a small amount, the overall strength and integrity of the end product can be compromised. Each piece of the geotextile fabric is layered onto the mold in a very specific sequence, which builds up the integrity of the structure. Once the numerous pieces of slurry-filled fabric are all securely in place on the mold, they cure for at least 24 hours until any further work can be done.

Dallas Zoo’s Senior Zoologist Julie Farrington also inspects the nests.

The next day the finished nests are removed from the molds and moved into the drying area to allow these completed pieces to continue curing for at least another 48 hours. Any work that is attempted during this curing time would have a strong likelihood of causing damage to the nest structure that would be very difficult to repair. Once a period of 72 hours minimum has passed, the pattern for the ventilation holes in the nest is traced onto the nest structure, and the ventilation holes are drilled. This pattern has been designed to increase the thermal venting of the nest structure on hot days and is a critical component in the thermoregulation inside the nest.

When looking at the end product of the nest, it doesn’t look like something that would be all that complicated, however there is a tremendous amount of science and research that went into the development of these penguin nests. Between the materials research; the design research; the multiple extensive rounds of testing; and finally the ongoing construction of the finished product that is beginning to be installed in colonies, this has been a very unique challenge. Recreating the perfection of Mother Nature is not an easy task, but thanks to the dedication of the nest project team consisting of members from Dyer Island Conservation Trust, Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the Dallas Zoo/AZA SAFE, and especially those people and organizations that have believed enough in the potential of providing homes for endangered penguins, we are confident that we’ve come as close as possible.

Really early tomorrow morning (which will be really late at night for you guys in the U.S.), we’ll be departing for Bird Island to begin installing the first of the finalized nests in the colony there. Thanks to the ongoing support and assistance of ADDO SANParks, we will be transporting the nests and supplies over to Bird Island by helicopter. This saves a huge amount of uncertainty in access to the island since it’s a two hour boat trip each way in calm waters or up to a five hour boat trip each way in rough waters, which usually ends up with a large number of the team members leaning over the edge and relieving themselves of their breakfast. More to come later, assuming we survive.

There’s a whole lot more in the way of photos and videos to come, so stay tuned as I continue to update you with field notes on this unprecedented project to save endangered African penguins.

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation, Penguins, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dallas Zoo staffers awarded nearly $70,000 in funding from National Geographic Society for conservation work

Penguin nesting project and amphibian conservation to be funded through National Geographic Society Grants

Two of our team members will join the ranks of renowned conservationists like Jane Goodall and Jacques Cousteau, as National Geographic Explorers, working on personal field conservation projects across the globe.

Dallas Zoo’s Animal Care Supervisor of Birds Kevin Graham was awarded a $50,000 grant in support of his project: “Using Artificial Nests to Improve Breeding Success of Endangered African Penguins.” Additionally, Curator of Ectotherms Ruston Hartdegen was awarded $18,955 in support of his project: “Expanding an Amphibian Rescue Center at the Dallas Zoo.”

Kevin Graham on South Africa’s Dyer Island installing the artificial nests.

“Receiving grants of this magnitude from National Geographic Society really shows the advances our team is making in the field of wildlife conservation,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “These are lifesaving undertakings that Kevin and Ruston have worked at length on – they had to prove successful completion of similar projects with measurable results before being awarded the grants. Now, we can make an even bigger impact for endangered African penguins and near-extinct frogs.”

Protecting penguins

In addition to caring for Dallas Zoo’s birds, Graham has worked hard to save African black-footed penguins in South Africa for the past three years as the Artificial Nest Development Project Coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). He leads a team that studies, designs and installs artificial nests for the penguins to lay eggs in.

Over the past 100 years, the population of African penguins has declined from more than two million breeding pairs to slightly more than 20,000 breeding pairs left – that’s a more than 98-percent population decline mainly due to improper nests that fail to protect their eggs.

African penguins burrow and nest in guano (a term for their poop), but decades ago, Europeans and South Africans began removing the guano to use as fertilizer, leaving the penguins’ eggs vulnerable to predation, human activity, and the elements. There are currently only 27 natural guano nests left.

An African penguin sits on an egg inside the artificial nest.

In February 2018, Graham joined forces with AZA scientists, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA) to install 200 artificial nests in two South African penguin colonies. After extensively testing various artificial nest prototypes, two designs were penguin-approved. At the end of the testing period, the scientists learned that approximately 96 percent of the nests in the study were utilized by the penguins, just over 80 percent had eggs laid in them, and more than 56 percent had successful chicks.

Over the next few months, the team will build 600 more nests to install, which is where the grant funding will come into play. Long-term, Graham hopes to have 6,000-7,000 nests installed in total.

“Our vision is to eventually achieve large-scale implementation that will allow thousands of penguin pairs access to suitable nesting locations, improving the current breeding success rate, and establishing population sustainability and stability,” said Graham. “There are other threats hurting African penguins – over-fishing, climate change, and marine pollution – but it feels good knowing that right now we’re taking immediate action to save them, and if nothing else, at least we gave them a place to raise kids.”

Hopping to the rescue

With one-third to one-half of all amphibian species worldwide threatened with extinction, conservation action is absolutely critical to preserving herpetological biodiversity. The Dallas Zoo is taking the next step to develop assurance populations of three threatened amphibian species – the dusky gopher frog, the Houston toad, and the Puerto Rican crested toad.

Ruston Hartdegen releases a dusky gopher froglet back into Mississippi’s DeSoto National Forest.

This past summer, we opened a behind-the-scenes Amphibian Rescue Center where our herpetologists are working to produce healthy offspring to release back into their natural environments.

We are already leading efforts to protect the dusky gopher frog, one of the most endangered amphibians in the world. In October 2018, herpetologists released new froglets from our existing dusky gopher frog population into their native habitat of Mississippi, where the frog is endemic to only three small ponds in the DeSoto National Forest.

“Without conservation efforts like our zoological breeding program, many endangered species would become extinct in the wild,” said Hartdegen. “Amphibians are critical to our environment. Known as ‘indicator species,’ they’re used to gauge the health of their ecosystems – the moment they’re in decline, we know that habitat has been compromised due to problems like, pollution, habitat destruction, or disease.”

With the help of the National Geographic Society grant, Hartdegen is expanding the Amphibian Rescue Center to accommodate two new breed-and-release programs – the Houston toad (currently only found in three Texas counties) and the Puerto Rican crested toad (the only native toad on the island) – helping a total of three species increase their numbers while protecting genetic diversity.

A dusky gopher frog at the Dallas Zoo Amphibian Rescue Center before its release.

The National Geographic Society funding marks the first time our staffers have received support from the Society in its history. Since its inception 130 years ago, the National Geographic Society has supported the work of more than 3,000 Explorers in the field.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Penguins, Reptiles and Amphibians | Tags: | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo raises nearly $80,000 for wildlife through grassroots fundraising

Creating A Better World For Animals is our thing. Every. Single. Day. And each year, we proudly donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to wildlife conservation efforts across the globe and in our backyard.

Through a new grassroots fundraising initiative on our campus, we’ve raised nearly $80,000 for wildlife. Our Zoo guests have become conservation heroes during these new saving wildlife-focused weekends. With the help of our interns, we’ve sold specially designed T-shirts, stickers, wristbands, artwork, and more, and have raised funds to protect animals like, endangered chimpanzees, Texas’s iconic whooping cranes, and Africa’s most endangered cat, the cheetah. Here’s a look back at what we’ve accomplished in 2018.

  • Chimpanzees: During spring break, we set a goal to raise $14,000 for the Jane Goodall Institute to care for two rescued chimps in South Africa. We proudly delivered the check to Jane while she was in Dallas on a speaking tour. It’s not often we can present a check in-person to a conservation partner, let alone one of the biggest wildlife conservation heroes of our lifetime.

  • Whooping cranes: This summer, we raised an incredible $25,000 for whooping crane conservation. There are less than 800 whooping cranes left – in the wild and in human care. The DFW area serves as a pit stop for these Texas icons as a flock of about 400 cranes migrate annually from Canada to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast.
  • Cheetahs: During the fall, we raised $15,000 to protect cheetahs, including a special project with the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) to help feed and care for two orphaned cheetah cubs at their sanctuary in Namibia.

We started this grassroots fundraising effort last year when we set out to save the vaquita through a weekend “beach party.” As the world’s most endangered marine mammal with fewer than 30 left, they needed help fast. For an animal that Zoo guests could not see, and one that many had not heard of, we raised an impressive $15,000 in a few short days. And we haven’t stopped since.

“Saving wildlife is for all of us – everyone has a role to play. It’s not a political issue. It’s not just for scientists or ‘earth people’ or the Animal Planet stars. It’s for all of us,” said Ben Jones, Dallas Zoo’s Senior Director of Conservation. “We’ve saved so many species from extinction: California condor, American alligator, bald eagle, black-footed ferret, brown pelican, and more – there are so many conservation success stories to celebrate. More people committed to conservation means more success stories and more celebrations for all of us – animals and people alike.”

Join us in 2019 as we roll out Dallas Zoo’s new conservation plan – it will provide our roadmap to saving species for the next decade. In the meantime, look for more ways to help by becoming a part of our Wild Earth Action Team and join our boots-on-the-ground efforts, email us at volunteers@dallaszoo.com for more information.

Categories: Conservation | Leave a comment

Saving sea turtles on South Padre Island

Conservation and Community Engagement Intern, Kelly A. Catter guest blogs on ZooHoo!

A volunteer with our Wild Earth Action Team clears large debris from the beachside in South Padre Island, Texas.

Our Wild Earth Action Team recently traveled down to South Padre Island with 50 volunteers, interns and staff from the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park to remove litter pollution from beaches and dunes in an effort to restore sea turtle nesting habitats.

Plastic and other litter pollution pose a serious threat to the vulnerable sea turtle population.

In just three hours, our team was able to remove 2,238 pounds of litter pollution. It felt great to actually take action and make a difference for wildlife!

The team then explored the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville and enjoyed eco-tours of Laguna Madre and Sea Turtle, Inc.’s new center, where we met the people responsible for monitoring and protecting sea turtle nests and rehabilitating injured sea turtles.

Unfortunately, we did not see a hatchling release – 108 babies hatched at 2:30 am, too early to view – but we did get to observe a night nest check and saw the baby turtles working their way up to the surface through the sand!

We also learned about ways we can help sea turtles in our everyday lives. By reducing plastic use whenever and wherever we can, we’re preventing it from entering our waterways and ending up in the ocean. Even simple things like using reusable grocery bags and straws, recycling and picking up litter rather than walking passed it go a long way to keep wildlife safe. This conservation trip was a huge success, and we all had a wonderful time doing our part to save sea turtles.

Want to get involved? We challenge everyone to pitch in to save sea turtles by pledging to pick up just 10 pieces of litter pollution every Tuesday. Imagine the impact it would make towards creating a better world for animals all the way to the sea. Click here to find more information about the North Texas TenOnTues pledge initiative and make your pledge today.

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

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