Africa

Meet our world renowned okapi herd

For the past 50 years, we’ve been working with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) to substantially increase the population of these endangered “African unicorns” in human care. Nearly 75 percent of all okapi in the SSP are related to Dallas Zoo offspring, and in our history we’ve welcomed 36 calves!

Though they’ve been off exhibit during the construction of the Simmons Hippo Outpost, you can now view these solitary creatures in two different yards. Learn about our six okapi and how to tell who’s who!

Kwanini

Kwanini is a dedicated and attentive mother who was born at the Dallas Zoo when the Wilds of Africa originally opened. Nearly 27 years old, she’s given birth to 7 calves, including Ikenge, a son who still lives here.

Although shy around other adult herd members, Kwanini is a caring, maternal figure. She enjoys interacting with calves and grooming them (and occasionally keepers) with her rough tongue.

You can recognize Kwanini by her deep chocolate coloring and very defined brows.

Kwanini (pictured left) with son Ikenge

Niko

Niko was born at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida and arrived in 2000 at the age of three as a breeding male. His father was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, making his genetics extremely valuable to the SSP. Since 2001, he’s fathered 7 calves.

Known as the friendliest okapi ever encountered by our keepers, he’ll seek out the company of keepers and happily approach strangers for a head rub, which is atypical for this solitary species. In fact, Niko’s developed an interesting habit of bobbing his head at other animals and staff to get their attention.

Niko is tall, dark, and handsome. He’s especially recognizable by his ossicones, which are only about 2 inches long because he likes rubbing them on trees and branches.

Niko

Desi

Desi was born at Dallas Zoo in 1999, and is now almost 18 years old. She is currently our primary breeding female, and has birthed two calves. As the herd’s dominant, leading lady, the other okapi will submit to her—even the males! She is very comfortable and confident around keepers, and enjoys a good neck or ear rub.

Desi learns very quickly and has been known to playfully test new staff members by not shifting (moving to a new space when asked) unless she is offered a treat. Though strong-willed, she’s a sweet girl.

Look for Desi’s mahogany face and fuzzy fringe around her ears.

Desi

Uche

Uche is 6 years old and will begin introductions with females this summer as an up-and-coming breeding male. Born at San Diego Safari Park, he came to Dallas 3 years ago as Desi’s mate. He is often shy around female okapi, though enjoys saying howdy to them through stall windows.

Upon first meeting, Uche appears aloof, but warms up quickly to familiar faces. When he first arrived, he was not fond of touching or direct feeding, but our keepers have earned his trust, and he now willfully approaches them to have his ears and ossicones scratched. He’s a quick learner with training, too.

You’ll notice Uche’s very light face and thick ossicones. Still a rather young okapi, he is smaller than the other males and females.

Uche

Ikenge

Ikenge was born at Dallas Zoo to mother Kwanini and father Niko. At only five years old, he’s still a little shy, but loving and playful nonetheless. When he isn’t visiting mom through the stalls, you’ll find him energetically running around the habitat.

This little calf is very trusting and will follow keepers into new areas without hesitation. He appreciates being groomed by other okapi and his keepers, and enjoys training sessions and time out on exhibit.

Although he is short, Ikenge is very muscular. Look for his dark face and long eyelashes.

Ikenge

Kilua

Kilua is the newest addition to our herd and our youngest. She was born in Cincinnati, but came to become a primary breeding female in the future. But don’t let her age fool you—Kilua is one of the largest okapi our keepers have ever seen.

A gentle giant, she is both brave and friendly. Kilua likes to interact with people, and happily tolerates hoofwork. Though calm, she is still playful at heart and enjoys enrichment items, like her bamboo curtain and puzzle feeder.

Kilua is huge, weighing in at nearly 800 lbs. With her massive frame, you’ll easily be able to identify her.

Kilua

Visit our okapi herd in person, and learn more about this unique species during an okapi keeper chat, occurring daily at 2:15 p.m.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Okapi | Tags: , | Leave a comment

World Giraffe Day: When it comes to giraffe conservation, we take it personally

Auggie shows off his impressive height next to Katie

Dallas Zoo North Savanna Supervisor Lisa Fitzgerald, Assistant Supervisor Allison Dean, and Giraffe Keeper II Jessica Romano guest blog for ZooHoo!

Since 1998 the population of giraffes in Africa has dropped from 140,000 to less than 80,000 individuals. That’s only 80,000 wild giraffes left in the entire world! For comparison, there are more than 1.3 million people living in Dallas and over 200,000 people living in Oak Cliff alone.

Tebogo

As zookeepers at Dallas Zoo’s Giants of the Savanna habitat, we take giraffe conservation personally. We think giraffes are amazing and beautiful creatures. As keepers, we have the privilege of getting to know them as individuals and sharing in their daily lives. As wildlife conservationists, we want to ensure that the four species of giraffes not only survive, but thrive in the wild for eternity.

Why has the giraffe population dropped so dramatically? This is largely a situation created by us – humans. Prolonged civil wars in northeast Africa have created large populations of refugees, living in city sized refugee camps. Refugees seek protein sources and giraffes are large, easy targets.  Human population growth has also broken wildlife habitats into pieces, splitting giraffe populations into smaller groups that cannot recombine for breeding.

The Dallas Zoo partners with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) to provide monitoring of giraffe populations, procure and protect giraffe habitat, and seek workable solutions that identify and relieve threats to wild giraffes. As members and visitors, you help us support GCF’s efforts!

Want to do more? 

  • Spread the word! Most people don’t know giraffes are a threatened species. Ask your friends which of these wild populations is the smallest, elephant or giraffe? The answer is giraffe – there are approximately 350,000 elephants in Africa vs. 80,000 giraffes
  • Support conservation groups like the Giraffe Conservation Foundation
  • Take that life changing trip to Africa and see giraffes in the wild – you will also be supporting local economies and communities
  • Consider a working vacation to Africa – volunteer for a non-profit organization, like Earthwatch

    Chrystal and Katie

  • Contribute to efforts to aid and relocate refugees

Meet Dallas Zoo’s herd:

Auggie – our oldest giraffe is 14 years old. Also known as “Uncle Auggie” for his gentle and protective approach with calves.

Tebogo – our breeder and greeter. Tebogo is the father of the calves born in the Giants of the Savanna. He is people oriented and can be easily identified by his dark brown spots.

Jesse – our tallest giraffe. Measuring in at more than 17 feet, Jesse is a total sweetheart and Jade’s BFF.

Ferrell – everyone’s buddy and one of our most curious giraffes. He is always keeping a watchful eye on what is going on.

Five – a shy guy, but one of our most handsome giraffes. Five has a beautiful brown coat with thin white stripes.

Katie – our most prolific mother. Katie is a beautiful giraffe with an even temperament and a slight sassy side.

Tsavo and Katie

Chrystal – “the diva.” Chrystal is our other mother and likes things her way.

Jade – “the princess.” Jade is very particular and sensitive; she likes compliments.

Betty – the “new girl in town.” Betty is our 2-year-old giraffe and has a warm personality when she isn’t getting into trouble.

Tsavo – “the baby.” Tsavo is Katie’s third calf here at Dallas Zoo and is the newest addition to our herd. While still growing into his personality, we can already tell he is going to be a lot of fun! He’s got his mama’s good looks and his dad’s rambunctious spirit. Tsavo is quite curious about his keepers and the rest of the herd. When he isn’t following mom around, Tsavo enjoys running and exploring. An affectionate little guy, he likes to nuzzle the other adults and will often give them good morning kisses through the stalls. Tsavo’s already nibbling on bits of browse, and bamboo, in particular, seems to be his favorite. Guests can now see Tsavo out in the giraffe feeding yard with mom and other herd members.

Happy World Giraffe Day from the Dallas Zoo giraffe herd and their keepers! Thank you for loving giraffes as much as we do.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Giraffe | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Gorilla groovin’: Promoting play through enrichment

 

Dallas Zoo’s Primate Keeper II Ashley Orr guest blogs for ZooHoo!

You may have seen the original viral video of gorilla Zola dancing in a puddle when he was a youngster living at Calgary Zoo, and his passion for splashin’ has only continued with age! However, there’s a lot more to this behavior than a great ape groovin’ in the water.

Zola is a 14-year-old male Western lowland gorilla, and the youngest member of our bachelor troop. When he isn’t hanging out in the South gorilla habitat, Zola spends his hours inside our roomy gorilla building. The big, blue pool featured in this video is one of many enrichment items the gorilla keepers use to engage primates.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums defines enrichment as a process to ensure that the behavioral and physical needs of an animal are being met by providing opportunities for species-appropriate actions and choices. Enrichment helps enhance the environment and lives of animals by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior. This is an important component in caring for all zoo animals, but primate enrichment is among the most complex and varied.

Enrichment can take many forms; it can be an object such as a ball, a scent like an herb or perfume, visual stimulation such as a mirror, a change in an animal’s company or location, an activity like painting or training, introduction of a new food, or a challenging food presentation… the options are almost limitless! As keepers, we are constantly coming up with new and fresh ways to enrich our animals. And clearly the pool is a favorite for Zola!

Zola’s “dancing” is really just a play behavior (there was no breakdance music playing in the building, we promise). Play is a natural behavior present in a wide array of animals. In fact, the presence of play can signify an animal is content or comfortable, and it is recognized as an indicator for general welfare. It is easy for anyone to appreciate the good time that Zola is having in the pool because we recognize some of the same signs of play that we see in people.

Gorillas in the wild have been observed to willingly enter the water to feed or to cross to other areas. Some gorillas have even been documented using long sticks to probe beneath the water and gauge depth for safe passage (fun fact, gorillas are anatomically too dense to swim). This is an impressive example of great ape intelligence.

Visit Zola and the three other gorillas in our bachelor troop, or the four members of the family troop, to watch them engage with enrichment in their habitats. Proceeds from your visit help purchase enrichment items for our Zoo animals, and also support our conservation partners in the field, like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), that help gorillas in the wild.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Enrichment, Gorilla | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

World-famous giraffe Katie welcomes baby boy

We are elated to share that our beloved giraffe Katie gave birth to a healthy male calf on Tuesday, May 30, at approximately 1:45 p.m. As of Thursday morning, when the zoo’s veterinary team conducted a well-baby checkup, the almost 6-foot baby weighed in at about 150 lbs.

Katie and her new bouncing baby boy are doing very well, following what was a by-the-book, hour-long delivery. The calf has spent his first few days learning how to nurse and following mom around their area.

Katie lovingly nudges her new baby boy, born on Tuesday afternoon.

“We consider ourselves so lucky to get to welcome this (big) little guy to the world here at the Dallas Zoo,” said Harrison Edell, the Dallas Zoo’s vice president of animal operations and welfare. “Katie brought this calf into the world like a pro, and we continue to be amazed at how quickly this baby giraffe is taking to his surroundings and learning his way with Katie there to guide him.”

Now, at 9 years old, Katie has welcomed three calves with ease – two females, and now her first male. An excellent, proven mother, Katie will remain with her calf for the next few weeks as they bond behind the scenes.

The baby will then meet the truest gentle giant of them all – Uncle Auggie. Our oldest and most patient giraffe, Auggie is typically the first to meet new calves. And eventually, the calf will join the rest of the herd in the giraffe feeding yard.

We’re giving the honor of naming the baby giraffe to the zoo team that took such stellar care of mom during her pregnancy and are now caring for the newest addition to our giraffe herd. We’ll announce his name prior to the calf making his public debut.

The calf’s father, Tebogo, is one of the most popular giraffes at the Dallas Zoo. Matched with Katie on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding recommendation, the two were paired together to ensure appropriate breeding and genetic diversity in North America.

“Welcoming this baby giraffe to the Dallas Zoo is yet another milestone in what has been a very exciting year for us,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “We look forward to sharing the adorable awkwardness and cute baby face of the giraffe calf with our visitors. But we also want our guests to know how critical a role accredited zoos have in conservation efforts, as we try to help maintain the species’ existence given the numbers in the wild are diminishing so rapidly.”

Unfortunate news hit the giraffe population in late 2016 – the International Union for Nature and Conservation downgraded the species status from “least concern,” skipped the “near threatened” classification, and moved giraffes directly to the “vulnerable” category.

In the past 30 years, the giraffe population has suffered a nearly 40% drop due to human encroachment, poaching and habitat loss. It’s believed there are fewer than 97,000 individuals in the wild – scarcer than even African elephants.

And for reticulated giraffes, the subspecies we care for here at the zoo, only 4,700 remain. This all amounts to what researchers are calling a silent extinction for the tallest and longest-necked animal in the kingdom.

The Dallas Zoo proudly supports the Reticulated Giraffe Project and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) by funding efforts to monitor giraffes and remove snares in Uganda. We also help GCF raise anti-poaching awareness in African communities.

 

The more you know…

The Dallas Zoo’s new giraffe calf has been active and exploring since just after his birth on Tuesday.

We know you’ll have questions, so we thought we’d try to answer a few here –

  • How are Katie and the baby doing?  Both are healthy and doing very well. The calf has been right on schedule with his activities, standing, nursing, and showing a curiosity to explore – just as we want to see.
  • Was it an easy delivery?  Yes, Katie was in labor for less than an hour and all went as expected.
  • When will you be able to see the calf on exhibit?   It will likely be several weeks before he’s out on exhibit. Watch the zoo’s social channels for updates.
  • What is the calf’s name?  We’ll let you know soon! Once the team here at the zoo decides on the name, we’ll announce it.
  • Will the public have a chance to help name the baby giraffe?  We’re going to give our giraffe team the honor of naming the calf.
  • What has the zoo done to the exhibit to make sure it’s safe given what happened with Kipenzi?  We have modified the entry gate system and enhanced the fencing within the exhibit for additional protection for the whole giraffe herd. We believe these measures will help mitigate the possibility of an inadvertent injury in the exhibit.

Katie captured hearts in 2015 with first-ever “Giraffe Birth Live”

Katie received worldwide attention in 2015 when she delivered calf Kipenzi during a remarkable, first-ever live streamed birth on Animal Planet and Animal Planet L!VE web cameras. Millions of people around the world fell in love with Katie and her calf – the birth drew more than 2 million streams on APL.tv, and the “Giraffe Birth Live” TV special drew 1.4 million viewers.

The live project turned millions into devout, loyal giraffe fans. From admirers making their support permanent with giraffe tattoos, to flying across the world to meet Katie and Kipenzi in person, the impact this mother-daughter duo had was immeasurable.

This time around, we decided to not live stream Katie’s delivery. While some of Katie’s fans were sad to not be able to tune in for 24-hour access to the birth, we didn’t want to try to recreate the magic of the first “Giraffe Birth Live.”

Sadly, Kipenzi passed away in July 2015 following a tragic accident. After Kipenzi’s death, the Dallas Zoo and Animal Planet received hundreds of thousands of messages of sympathy and gratefulness for the unprecedented project. An outpouring of support from her fans led to nearly $100,000 in donations for giraffe conservation and other wildlife conservation efforts around the world.

Come visit our now 10-member giraffe herd, which roams the award-winning Giants of the Savanna, the only U.S. zoo habitat where giraffes and elephants mingle alongside other African species. In 2015, the habitat was named USA Today’s No. 3 “Best Zoo Exhibit” in the nation.

 

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Giraffe, Mammals | Leave a comment

Snoozing in the sand: Studying elephant sleep habits

 

Coordinator of Animal Behavior Science Nancy Scott guest-blogs on ZooHoo! about a study conducted on our elephants’ sleep habits and behaviors.

Sometimes we can’t sleep the night before Christmas or before a big test. Whether it’s something exciting or scary, big events can affect how well we sleep at night.

The same goes for animals, too. When the Dallas Zoo rescued elephants from Swaziland last spring, we really wanted to confirm they felt comfortable enough in their new environment to sleep well at night.

Our first step was to see how many hours our longtime residents, the “Golden Girls,” were sleeping at night, so we could compare the groups. The thing is, I like to sleep as much as the next person, so how were we going to keep track of elephants sleeping while we were sleeping, too?

Technology to the rescue! We used video cameras in the elephant barns to record what the elephants did at night, and then reviewed the footage the next day… while we were awake.

Although elephants can doze standing up – sometimes even while leaning against a rock or using their trunk as a fifth limb for balance – they’re most relaxed when lying on their sides.

“The most surprising thing to me was that elephants lay down to sleep,” said research volunteer Becca Dyer. “I thought that, because of predators, they slept standing.”

For this study, we wanted to know how much time the elephants were lying down and getting the very best sleep.

Our observations of the Golden Girls told us Jenny likes to go to bed around 10-11 p.m., while the other three females are usually asleep by midnight. And just like you may have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or raid the fridge, the elephants don’t sleep through the night, either. They usually get up three or four times a night, sometimes changing sides, or location.

“When Gypsy finally goes to sleep, Jenny will bug her until she wakes up … and then lay down in her spot! Gypsy doesn’t seem to mind. What a friendship!” research volunteer Jill Donaldson said.

While volunteering as a Base Camp ambassador, Jill has seen the elephants using sand to dust themselves in the Savanna – especially after a good mud wallow – but she didn’t realize they also use the sand piles as a pillow. The keepers often see imprints of the elephants’ skin in the sand piles in the mornings.

Our elephants tend to sleep on their sides, much like humans do

The elephants rescued from drought-stricken Swaziland seemed very comfortable their very first night in their new home at the Dallas Zoo, according to our observations from just about a year ago. There was plenty of sand for pillows, and they certainly took advantage of it. Feeling relaxed in their new home, the rescued adults slept just as long as our resident Golden Girls – about 3-4 hours per night.

We quickly learned their personalities from the overnight video. Our bull, Tendaji, likes to sprawl out with his legs in front of him and will sometimes be on his side with his eyes still open, trying to eat hay while he’s lying down.

Nolwazi tends to go face-first into the sand when she beds down. Research volunteer Julie Evans (who can also be found in the Gorilla Research Station or Base Camp when she’s not observing sleeping elephants) remembers a favorite moment when “Nolwazi raised her head to check that her daughter, Amahle, was sleeping peacefully, then Nolwazi put her head back down.” A typical youngster, Amahle sleeps longer than the adults, resting around 4-5 hours each night.

Donaldson wasn’t sure if watching sleeping elephants would be interesting when she first signed up to help, “… but no way am I bored. They are all fascinating!” she said.

After calf Ajabu was born last May, we learned a lot about baby elephant sleep patterns, too. He loves to climb all over his mom just as she’s trying to get some much-needed shuteye for herself (sound familiar, parents?).

“If all else fails, he’ll curl up under her chin and sleep a little longer,” said research volunteer and Base Camp ambassador Barbara van Pelt.

Ajabu takes more than a dozen naps each night (for a total of 6-7 hours of rest) when he’s not pestering his mom, playing with Amahle, or practicing his balance skills on a log. While Jill and Barbara are impressed by his perseverance, Rhonda loves watching him for his tightrope skills. You may have seen him practicing in the habitat by climbing rocks.

Our volunteers contributed an average of 20 hours a week over the past 14 months on this important project.

“It’s a great group of people who volunteer for the study, and we enjoy sharing our thoughts about what we see,” said Barbara. When asked why she likes to help with this study, Julie said, “Why? Because research is my passion!”

I couldn’t agree more.

Interested in volunteering opportunities? Contact Volunteers@DallasZoo.com

Categories: Africa, Elephant, Volunteers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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