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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.

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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

IT’S A GIRL! Zoo names baby gorilla after influential Congolese gorilla caretaker

We are proud to share that our first critically endangered gorilla born in 20 years is a female named Saambili (sam-BEE-lee). Born on June 25, 2018, to second-time mom Hope and first-time dad Subira, Saambili is named after a female gorilla caretaker, Aldegonde Saambili, who works for Dallas Zoo’s conservation partner, GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center), in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

GRACE is the only facility in the world dedicated to the rehabilitative care for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas. Infant gorillas come to GRACE after being confiscated from poachers or illegal pet traders. Aldegonde Saambili is one of GRACE’s most experienced caretakers; she specializes in helping infants heal so they have a chance at normal social, emotional, behavioral and physical development. She works 24-hour shifts, caring for the infants’ every need, including holding, carrying, feeding, exercising and playing with the young gorillas. She also walks her charges into the forest every day where the gorillas can re-familiarize themselves with their natural habitat. Aldegonde stays with the infants through the night, just as their gorilla mother would.

A close up of gorilla Saambili on mom Hope’s chest.

Keith Zdrojewski, Dallas Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Carnivores, is heavily involved in GRACE’s work with orphaned gorillas, helping the organization open a one-of-a-kind forest enclosure in the Congo for its gorillas in 2015. Zdrojewski also serves on GRACE’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group.

“It’s taken the Dallas Zoo 20 years to welcome a baby gorilla and we wanted her name to have real meaning,” said Zdrojewski. “GRACE is so close to my heart; the caretakers there are some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. With many women in the Congo facing issues of inequality, high rates of violence, and poverty, I’m proud to honor Aldegonde Saambili with the recognition she deserves as a remarkable female conservationist in a very conflicted country.”

“Thank you very much for this acknowledgement to us caregivers at GRACE. I promise to continue faithfully with my job of caring for baby gorillas all my life,” said Aldegonde Saambili. “I also wish a long life of happiness to Saambili, the baby gorilla, and my namesake at the Dallas Zoo.”

Dallas Zoo’s animal care team estimates gorilla Saambili was born weighing around five healthy pounds. Twenty-two-year-old mom Hope quietly delivered the infant in the gorilla barn after laboring for just over an hour. Saambili is gripping firmly onto mom’s chest, just as she should, and nurses often. In roughly five months, the baby will graduate from being cradled on mom’s belly, to riding on her back when she can easily hold her head up and grip even tighter.

Due to habitat destruction, poaching for bush meat, animal trafficking, and disease, gorillas have never been under greater threat in the wild. It’s estimated there are approximately 350,000 western lowland gorillas, the subspecies the Dallas Zoo cares for, left in Africa. There are roughly 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas, 880 mountain gorillas, and 300 Cross River gorillas remaining in the wild.

“GRACE is fortunate to have the Dallas Zoo as a long-term partner supporting our work with rescued Grauer’s gorillas. The zoo has played a key role in the success of our sanctuary by serving as animal care advisers and sending expert staff to the Congo to help with capacity building,” said Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg, GRACE Executive Director. “We feel extremely honored that they chose to name their new gorilla after one of our caregivers. It’s a beautiful way to recognize the hard work and dedication of our Congo team and is a tribute to the zoo’s commitment to our partnership and helping gorillas in the wild.”

Hope and Saambili are making early morning appearances in the habitat, weather permitting. Guests are encouraged to have patience when visiting as their time in the habitat will be determined by Hope’s comfort level and the Texas heat.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Gorilla | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dollar Day survival guide

It’s that time of year again at the Zoo—Dollar Day! This annual summer day is our way of giving back and saying “thank you” to our amazing community that supports us year-round. While Dollar Day is one of the most exciting days at the Zoo, it’s also one of the busiest. So here are a few tips for you to make the most of your Zoo day:

  • GET HERE EARLY. Parking lots open at 7 a.m. and gates at 9 a.m., but lines will begin forming at the entrances well before that.
  • TAKE THE DART RED LINE RIGHT TO OUR DOOR. Parking is limited, and with the attendance we expect on Dollar Day, public transportation is such a great alternative to driving personal vehicles.
  • COME WITH A PLAN. Take a look at a map of the Zoo before you come and figure out your plan for the day. Consider which half of the Zoo you want to visit first: Wilds of Africa (hippos, giraffes, elephants, lions, Gorilla Trail) or ZooNorth (Children’s Zoo, reptiles, tiger, monkeys, etc.). Also consider which keeper chats you want to attend and which Wonders of the Wild show you want to catch. At 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m., you can experience our interactive 20-minute wildlife show in ZooNorth.
  • PREPARE FOR THE WEATHER. The forecast calls for sun, with temps over 100 degrees. Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen and to stay hydrated throughout the day!
  • PACK YOUR PATIENCE. The Zoo is going to be crowded. This day is always one of our busiest. Please be patient if you encounter lines and please be nice to your fellow visitors.
  • SPEAK UP IF YOU NEED HELP. If you have a question, problem, or just need directions, please find a uniformed staffer and ask for help. We’re here to make sure you have the best experience!

If you get hungry during your Zooventure, not to worry. We have $2 hot dogs, chips, and sodas, and $1 canned water available for purchase. Sponsored by Oncor, MetroPCS, and Children’s Health, Dollar Day is going to be a busy day full of fun. Can’t wait to see you there!

Categories: Dollar Day, Events | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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