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.
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.
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!
The Zoo’s a great place for budding photographers (and experienced ones, too). Our Top Photographer summer camp gives children an opportunity to test out their wildlife photography skills in our 106-acre zoological park. Last month, a group of lucky student campers were trained by our expert staff photographer and given an up-close experience with animals. After two weeks of trekking through the Zoo and patiently waiting for just the right shot, here are some of our winning photos:
Dallas Zoo intern Paulina Serra engages guests at one of the whooping crane conservation tables at the Zoo. The intern fundraising campaign runs from July 7 – July 15.
Origami is the simple yet intentional act of folding paper in order to create a delicate piece of art. The practice takes very little material and requires no setup, but according to Dallas Zoo conservation and engagement intern Audrey Silvestre, you need more than just paper. “Origami takes precision and patience,” she says. “A fold that’s a little off can make the final creation look a wonky and lopsided. Being the perfectionist I am, I like to make sure each corner meets the other corner perfectly.”
Her patience has been tested and demonstrated over the past few weeks as she, alongside a group of 48 interns spanning 16 Dallas Zoo departments, has painstakingly crafted more than 1,000 origami cranes in the name of conservation.
In Japan, the origami crane is a symbol of hope in challenging times. The belief is, if you are determined enough to craft 1,000 cranes while concentrating on a specific purpose or goal, then your wish can be achieved. The interns took that to heart in honor of the Dallas Zoo’s current conservation focus – support for the endangered whooping crane.
Once upon a time, just 80 years ago, there were only 15 whooping cranes left in the wild. Through concerted conservation efforts, those numbers have slowly grown to almost 800 whooping cranes today in human care and in the wild. But there is still much work to be done before this species is secure.
In response, the Dallas Zoo is on a mission to raise $2.5 million to fund the construction of the Whooping Crane Center of Texas, an off-site whooping crane breeding facility that will be located a few miles from the Zoo. There, we’ll breed whooping cranes for release into the wild and will conduct research to continue to improve wild reintroduction efforts.
How can you help?
Dallas Zoo intern Audrey Silvestre, with a hanging origami crane art piece she created to be sold on-site at the Dallas Zoo this weekend.
Current Dallas Zoo interns have organized a fundraiser, with stations at the Zoo stocked with t-shirts, conservation wristbands, art, stickers, reusable totes, and water bottles, all featuring this amazing bird. Their goal is to raise $10,000 to contribute to the Zoo’s larger capital campaign. While supplies last, anyone who contributes to the fundraiser at the Zoo is gifted one of the interns’ 1,000 paper cranes as a small “thank you” for helping keep the hope alive for this iconic Texas species.
“My knowledge of these beautiful birds has definitely grown a lot since I’ve been here,” Silvestre shares. “It’s sad to know that our actions affect these creatures as well as other wildlife, but together we can definitely make a positive impact.”
There are several ways to get involved to help create a better world for the whooping cranes.
Support the interns at the Zoo this weekend by taking part in daily activities from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the ZooNorth Breezeway.
Purchase specially designed whooping crane products and original art inspired by cranes and their beauty.
Stop by to contribute to our goal of collecting 3,000 pledges for pro-environmental behaviors that benefit whooping cranes.
Say yes to “rounding-up for whooping cranes” when you buy something in our Zoofari Market.
If you can’t make it to the Zoo this weekend but still want to help out, you can also submit an electronic donation through paypal.me/DallasZoo. And keep an eye out for more news from the Dallas Zoo about ways you can help support our campaign to build the Whooping Crane Center of Texas!
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.