Author Archives: Lydia Jennings

 
 

MEET WITTEN! Dallas Zoo names male giraffe calf after retired football legend Jason Witten

A close-up of Witten with mom Chrystal in the background./May 3

It’s a name fit for a 5-foot-9, 145-pound male giraffe calf and, of course, a 15-year career-span football legend. The Dallas Zoo – which was named today as the nation’s 7th Best Zoo in the USA Today 10Best awards and our Simmons Hippo Outpost was voted as the 5th Best Zoo Exhibit – is paying tribute to one of the best tight ends in history, Jason Witten, by naming our giraffe calf after the retired football star.

“We’re shifting from our typical tradition of naming a baby after its native heritage to honor a Texas legend and all around great guy,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “Our zookeepers were the first ones to jump on this naming opportunity. We’re all huge fans of Jason, he’s a real role model – on the field and in our community.”

Witten was born on April 25 after a long two-and-a-half hour labor (giraffes usually labor and deliver within one to two hours). Second-time mom Chrystal successfully delivered the calf without intervention. Witten was standing, walking, and nursing within 45 minutes after birth.

Witten will make his public debut in the giraffe-feeding yard within the next one to two weeks (weather dependent, of course). He’ll be joined by mom Chrystal, other herd members – and maybe even Jason Witten and his family (the zoo said optimistically).

“One of the things we are proudly known for is our giraffe herd. From Animal Planet to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, our giraffes have received a lot of limelight, so it’s fitting that we named our newest addition after one of football’s greatest,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s vice president of animal operations and welfare.

Witten’s father is Tebogo, one of the zoo’s most social and well-known residents. Tebogo is the only breeding male under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Giraffe Species Survival Plan’s (SSP) program to ensure genetic diversity within endangered species. Tebogo also is the father of the last four calves born at the Zoo.

In the wild, giraffes are facing what conservationists call a “silent extinction.” There are fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left – a 40% drop in the past 15 years. The Dallas Zoo cares for the reticulated giraffe sub-species; it’s estimated there are less than 8,700 left in the wild. The Dallas Zoo contributes greatly to giraffe conservation projects in Africa to help this species recover.

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LEGGY BABY! Meet our newest giraffe calf

We’re welcoming a long-legged baby born on April 25 to second-time mom Chrystal. This 5-foot-9, 130-pound giraffe calf arrived after a long two-and-a-half hour labor (giraffes usually labor and deliver within 1-2 hours!).

Nine-year-old Chrystal went into labor around 8:30 p.m. after keepers had gone home for the day. But during a scheduled 8:30 p.m. check-in via the barn’s closed-circuit cameras, they could see what appeared to be hooves emerging. A group of keepers and our on-call veterinarian headed into the Zoo to monitor the labor more closely.

Around 11 p.m., Chrystal calmly delivered her second calf – this time, without intervention. (You may remember when her first calf Kopano was born in 2014, vet staff intervened and helped deliver the baby after a long labor.)

After the baby dropped onto the soft sand, Chrystal immediately began cleaning its face, allowing the baby to take deep breaths. Once the calf sat up, Chrystal gently encouraged baby to stand. Following a few wobbly attempts on its new legs, the calf stood up only 20 minutes after birth. Shortly after, the calf got the hang of walking, and then nursed just 45 minutes after birth.

“Chrystal showed us once again that she’s a very attentive mother,” said Allison Dean, assistant supervisor of giraffes. “She’s been busy cleaning, nuzzling, and nursing her new little one who spends a lot of time eating and even more time napping. It’s hard being that cute.”

Chrystal and her calf remain behind the scenes where they are bonding privately (of course, with interested onlookers, like “Uncle” Auggie, peering over the maternity stall to check in on the two).

In the wild, the animal kingdom’s tallest and longest-necked species is facing what conservationists call a “silent extinction.” With fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left – a 40% drop in the past 15 years – their conservation status was up-listed to “vulnerable” last year by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Dallas Zoo cares for the reticulated giraffe sub-species; it’s estimated there are fewer than 8,700 left in the wild, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

The calf’s father is Tebogo, one of our most social and well-known residents. Tebogo is our only breeding male under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Giraffe Species Survival Plan’s (SSP) program to ensure genetic diversity within endangered species. Tebogo also is the father of our last four calves born at the Dallas Zoo.

Chrystal and her baby will venture into the giraffe feeding yard within the next few weeks for guests to meet them. And over the next few months, the baby will slowly meet the other nine giraffes in the herd.

Stay tuned to learn the baby’s gender very soon!

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Saving African penguins with a new home

 

Two penguins standing in front of one of the artificial nests.

“Penguins have been decimated by what people have done to them,” said Kevin Graham, bird supervisor at the Dallas Zoo. “We’ve done everything we can to wipe African penguins off the planet. We’ve stolen their eggs by the hundreds of thousands, we’ve polluted their environment, we’ve taken all their fish, we’ve taken their nest area, we’ve introduced predators and we’ve introduced disease. It’s about time we do something to help them.”

Kevin on Dyer Island installing the nests.

African penguins burrow and nest in guano, a term for their poop. About 110 years ago, there were over a million guano nests for African black-footed penguins. But South African natives started stealing the guano to use as fertilizer. Right now, there are only about 27 natural guano nests left. This has left the critically endangered African penguin population in serious trouble.

For the past three years, Kevin has been trying to resolve that problem. In addition to working with birds at the Zoo, he is also the artificial nest development project coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). He studies, builds and installs artificial guano nests for African penguins to lay eggs in. And after three years of research and testing, he was finally able to install nests in South Africa along with the help of our incredible partners, Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA).

Over the course of two weeks this past February, Kevin and our Association of Zoos and Aquariums partners built and installed 200 nests in two South African penguin colonies. (Thanks to our Invest in the Nest Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that helped AZA-accredited zoos raise the funds for this project!) And great news — the penguins seemed to settle into their new homes very quickly. At the end of February, 40 percent of the nests in one colony already had eggs in them, and 25 percent of the nests in the other colony had eggs! Kevin gets updates frequently on more and more eggs being laid.

African penguins will no longer have to incubate their nests in the open sun, and their eggs will be more protected from predators.

Over the next few months, Kevin and his team will be collecting environmental data from the nests. Once they’ve analyzed the data to ensure the nests are in tiptop shape for the penguins, they will start building 3,000 more nests to install. Long-term, he hopes to have 6-7,000 installed nests in total.

“If everything goes well and these nests continue to work, then we can keep giving them homes,” said Graham. “Each one we build is in an environmentally friendly deposit. We can’t solve the population decline with just the nests. Over-fishing, climate change, marine pollution, introduced pests, human incursion, habitat degradation—all of that has to be addressed. But at least if nothing else, we can give them a place to raise kids.”

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Dallas Zoo sends help to Madagascar after nearly 11,000 critically endangered tortoises were seized from a residential home

Jorge Chavez, one of our tortoise experts, is en route to Madagascar to help with an unprecedented wildlife trafficking crisis. Last week, nearly 11,000 radiated tortoises were confiscated from a residential home in the city of Toliara, located on the southwest coast of Madagascar. This seizure is the largest for tortoises in the history of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) – one of the world’s leading turtle and tortoise conservation organizations, and a Dallas Zoo conservation partner.

A portion of the radiated tortoises living on the floor of the home./Turtle Survival Alliance

Right now, the critically endangered tortoises are receiving initial in-processing, health evaluations, triage, hydration, and food at a temporary facility. Sadly, hundreds of tortoises have already died from dehydration, malnutrition, and illness.

Led by the TSA, the Dallas Zoo is part of more than 20 institutions accredited by The Association of Zoos and Aquariums that’s helping send funds, supplies and emergency assistance to Madagascar. Our team of veterinarians, vet techs and zookeepers will arrive in Madagascar this weekend as part the first of three waves of help.

Known for their beautiful shell with a striking star pattern, radiated tortoises are a valued animal in the global illegal pet trade. This species has declined by more than 80 percent in the last 30 years, leaving these tortoises vulnerable to extinction in the wild in our lifetime.

Stay posted on our Facebook page as we share Jorge’s updates from the field over the next two weeks. If you’d like to help in this rescue effort, please donate now to the Turtle Survival Alliance.

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“Arty for the Planet” art contest details!

Booker T. Washington students create animal-inspired chalk art at last year’s Arty for the Planet event.

When Earth Day rolls around, it’s a party at the Zoo! On April 21 and 22 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., our Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo is hosting Arty for the Planet. Guests can bust out ZOOmba moves with us; create upcycled musical instruments and jam; look at stunning wildlife conservation-themed chalk art by local art students; watch animals engage in art; and create your own nature-inspired art, too!

ART CONTEST

But before we kick off Earth Day celebrations, we’re inviting artists of all ages to submit an original art project using upcycled materials from April 14—18. Artwork will be judged on originality and use of upcycled materials in each age group by a panel of Dallas Zoo’s staff artists and the public.

Guests can enter into these four categories: ages 5 and under, ages 6-10, ages 11-17, and ages 18 and up. In each category, awards will be given for Peoples’ Choice (determined by Zoo-goers) and Experts’ Choice (determined by a panel of Zoo staff).

Submissions can be delivered to the Dallas Zoo Membership Services booth from April 14-18 during Zoo hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m.). Art will be on display in the Children’s Zoo for guests to vote on, and the winners will be announced and contacted on April 22. (Plus, we’ll share it on the Zoo’s Facebook page!) Winners of each category will receive a Family 4-pack of Dallas Zoo tickets. Good luck!

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