Africa

Celebrating one year with our Somali wild ass foals

Middle Wilds of Africa keeper Laura Burleson guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

All babies grow up – and entirely too quickly! It’s hard to believe that our two critically endangered Somali Wild Ass foals, Kalila and Naima, are now a year old. In that time, they have grown, experienced, and learned so much.

From the day the foals were born (really from about five minutes after birth) they were spunky, energetic, and so full of life and personality. Their moms, Liberty and Hani, and their Aunt Qamar were born and raised in zoos, but they are still a bit wary of keepers and spook easily in new situations. We, at the Dallas Zoo, have never had the opportunity to work with Somali Wild Ass from birth, so we were really excited to have the opportunity to build a strong connection with them. This relationship building is so important since we work with our animals very closely every day – it forms the foundation for us to be able to provide enrichment to them in multiple ways throughout their lifetimes.

The first step was working on socialization with the keepers, and as with myself, the key to their hearts was through their stomachs. Once they started eating solid food, we were able to hand feed them treats through the fence, building a trust that approaching their keepers meant yummy treats were on the way! After that, we started doing small bits of work getting the foals used to being physically touched by keepers. They were very tolerant of touches on their noses, but nervous of it on any other part of their bodies. Our real challenge came this spring, when the foals were due for their annual vaccinations. We had an ambitious goal in mind: voluntary hand injections. This meant that we wanted to get the foals to a point that we could have them lined up at the fence with their hip presented, and be given their vaccinations by the vets in a way that was minimally painful and stressful for them. The most nerve-wracking part was scratching their rears to see how they would react to that touch — and we were all a bit surprised when they loved it! With a lot of hard work and patience, we successfully reached our goal and were able to give the foals all of their vaccines with zero stress and pain for them.

Our Somali Wild Ass foal enjoying an ice treat in honor of her first birthday!

When the foals were about 7 months old, we decided it was time for them to meet the other species that call the Desert exhibits home. At the Dallas Zoo, we take a lot of pride in our mixed-species exhibits. One of the best parts about having multiple species living together is that this provides a lot of mental stimulation and social enrichment. Imagine spending all your time with one group of friends…definitely not as fun as having lots of different people to interact with!

The foals met our male Ostrich, Newman, first, then the Gemsbok, and lastly the Addax herd. The Asses are, to put it nicely, giant troublemakers. The Addax also like to mess with the Asses a lot. The combination of those two personalities and some very over-protective mothers creates the potential for some major antics. Luckily, everyone very quickly learned to give each other space, and all is well in the Semi-arid world.

While the foals have quadrupled in size from birth, when I was able hold them both in my arms for their checkups, their sassy little personalities have not changed a bit. I grow more and more attached to them every day and cannot wait to continue watching them grow, learn, and develop. And maybe one day they will have foals of their own that will steal the hearts of the world, and inspire people to want to make a change for conservation in their native habitat.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Monorail Safari | 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.

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Dallas Zoo welcomes its first baby gorilla in 20 years

A close up of Hope’s sleeping baby./June 25

Dallas Zoo staff are smiling big after welcoming our first baby gorilla in 20 years on Monday, June 25. This also marks the fifth baby gorilla the zoo has cared for in nearly 50 years.

Our 22-year-old critically endangered western lowland gorilla named Hope quietly delivered the infant last Monday morning in the gorilla

barn after laboring for just over an hour. Hope and the baby are both doing well. Mom is tired but she’s tending to the infant perfectly, and the baby appears to be strong – gripping onto mom, and nursing frequently.

Baby was holding onto mom on its own (as it should) immediately after birth.

Silverback Subira, a first-time father, was the first member of the troop to greet the baby, gently putting his lips on the infant’s head shortly after birth.

“Welcoming a critically endangered gorilla into our family is one of the most significant animal announcements we can make, and we’ve

waited patiently for 20 years for this moment,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s President and CEO. “We’ve dedicated years of conservation field work to saving gorillas in the wild and now we’re proudly increasing their numbers in human care. We’re truly beaming with pride. ”

This is Hope’s second baby – she delivered her first in 2004 at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in Albuquerque, NM. Hope arrived at the Dallas Zoo in February 2017 on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation in *hopes* of increasing the population in North America.

“It’s taken a lot of perseverance, the right chemistry, and a team of dedicated animal experts to get here,” said Harrison Edell, Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “Reproducing critically endangered species is no easy feat, and this moment doesn’t come without its share of obstacles. We’re feeling a ton of emotions – excitement, relief, gratitude – and now we have to ensure this infant grows into a successful member of our gorilla troop.”

The zoo cares for nine gorillas, including its bachelor troop who live on the south side of the Gorilla Trail, and the family troop who live on the north side. The family troop remains behind the scenes where Hope and her baby are bonding privately. Hope continues to keep her baby close, so keepers have not been able to definitively confirm the gender.

Twenty-two-year-old father Subira is very curious of the infant and calmly investigates the little one; 13-year-old female Megan is the most inquisitive, staying very close to Hope; and 21-year-old female Shanta is extremely respectful of Hope, giving her privacy and space.

“It’s incredible to see how our troop is reacting to the baby – they’re all managing well and Hope has been super patient with their presence,” said Keith Zdrojewski, Dallas Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Carnivores. “Hope’s pregnancy lasted 8.5 months and we were able to monitor the baby’s growth along the way through ultrasound. Keepers trained Hope to voluntarily participate in her own health care, allowing us to observe movement; hear the heartbeat; see the infant’s bladder, spine, appendages; and confirm when its head was down.”

Due to habitat destruction, poaching for bush meat and the animal trafficking trade, and disease, gorillas have never been under greater threat in the wild. According to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the world’s leading gorilla conservation organization and a Dallas Zoo partner, there are approximately 350,000 western lowland gorillas left in Africa.

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 295 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.

Baby rests while Hope eats (note mom’s food droppings).

The Dallas Zoo has supported gorilla conservation for many years. A species that is close to our President and CEO’s heart, Hudson is the immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, where he’s been a member since 2007. He serves on the board of directors for the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), as well. Zdrojewski is also on GRACE’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group – he helped the organization open a one-of-a-kind forest enclosure in the Congo for its orphaned Grauer’s gorillas in 2015.

Our animal care team aims for Hope and her baby to make their first scheduled public appearance within the next week or so. We will share the date on our social media pages, so stay posted!

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A special baby Witten update on World Giraffe Day

 

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

It’s always exciting when we are expecting a new giraffe calf, but once that little… well, big bundle of joy is here, it takes a lot of work to integrate them into the herd. While giraffes are herd animals that live in large groups called “towers,” it’s important for mom and calf to have some private time in those first couple of days. Here at the Zoo, Chrystal and Witten spent their first days in our maternity stall away from the inquisitive herd. This area is filled with sand that helps newborns find sturdy footing as they learn to walk and keep up with mom. It also allows for uninterrupted bonding between mom and baby.

Witten stands close to mom Chrystal.

Once the calf is nursing well and is bonded with mom, we begin the process of introducing them to the rest of the herd. First up, our oldest giraffe, Auggie. His gentle nature, extreme tolerance, and protective personality makes him the go-to guy for babysitting when mom needs a break. Some individuals need more introduction time than others. Younger giraffes, like three-year-old Betty, are often more curious and can inadvertently be a bit of a bother to mom while she’s in protective-mommy mode. It’s all a normal part of herd dynamics and learning social behaviors for everyone, not just the new calf. The progress of the introductions is always on mom’s terms. After introductions are complete, it’s time to head out to a whole new world – the giraffe feeding habitat.

Learning to shift from the barn to the habitat can take a bit of work. Sometimes calves learn this process quickly and other times they need a little extra encouragement from mom to get over those first day jitters. Little by little, the calves get used to their new surroundings and make their way out to the habitat.

It’s hard to believe that Witten will be two months old next week. Seems like just yesterday he was taking his first steps and now he makes regular trips to the giraffe feeding habitat like a pro (or a pro-football player, *nudge nudge*). He’s sprouted up to 7 feet tall and weighs nearly 250 pounds! Those lanky legs are good for running post routes around the trees (and his mom). We’re sure Witten would spike the ball if he could carry one, but he usually just turns loose a high kick and a stomp to signify the completion of his run.

Witten has already made an impression and has become a great ambassador for his reticulated giraffe sub-species – it’s estimated there are less than 8,700 left in the wild. Giraffe populations are undergoing what conservationists call a “silent extinction” – the species is already extinct in at least seven African countries. They are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction due to a 40-percent population decline in the past 15 years with fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left. Human encroachment on their habitat has led to significant conflict and poaching.

On June 21, we celebrate World Giraffe Day to bring awareness to the issues facing this amazing species. Our partners at the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) work tirelessly in the field every day to protect these majestic animals. We’re proud to help fund GCF’s efforts to monitor giraffes and remove snares in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, home to more than 90 percent of the wild population of the Rothschild’s giraffe sub-species.

Learn more about how we’re helping save giraffes with GCF, and please consider donating directly to GCF on this special day dedicated to saving the long necks of the animal kingdom.

PS: It’s also National Selfie Day today, so we highly suggest you make a trip out to snap a selfie with our giraffes!

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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.

Categories: Africa, Giraffe | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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