Africa

 
 

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.

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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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Saving chimps: Help protect one of our closest relatives

Little Mshindi and female Koko share a moment. (Photo by Jackie Smith)

Conservation and Community Engangement Intern Alicia Moreau guest-blogs about Chimpanzee Action Awareness Week on Zoohoo! 

“When you meet chimps, you meet individual personalities. When a baby chimp looks at you, it’s just like a human baby. We have a responsibility for them.” ~ Jane Goodall

Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than we may think. We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees and quite a few personality traits.

In 1962, virtually nothing was known about chimps in the wild. Jane Goodall changed all that. She dedicated her life to researching and observing chimps by sharing a special bond with them — she says, “One touch started a revolution.” Goodall is the reason we know so much about chimps and the personalities they possess. They share our emotions of pleasure, joy, and sadness.

Chimpanzees are very social animals and thrive in communities of about 15-20 consisting of both genders. However, they tend to feed, travel and sleep in a smaller community consisting of six or fewer. One may say that this is related to humans due to our nature of establishing close knit groups of friends and/or family we surround ourselves with on a regular basis.

Chimps are also related to us in their ability to communicate through complex systems of vocalizations, gestures, body postures and facial expressions. Grooming is an important example of their social nature. They participate in grooming for two main purposes: cleaning and establishing bonds between family and friends. It’s a critical action that helps them maintain friendships and comfort each other after a hard time or disagreement.

Mshindi hangs from a tree branch in the Kimberly-Clark Chimpanzee Forest. (Photo by Jackie Smith)

The use of tools was first observed by Goodall when she witnessed a chimp use the stem of a branch to collect termites for food. After this groundbreaking discovery, more evidence has been found all throughout Africa. Chimpanzees use rocks as hammers; anvils to open nuts; leaves as napkins or sponges; sticks to open beehives for honey and create spears to kill small mammals.

It’s a Chimp’s Life

Chimps are actually great apes and not monkeys. An easy way to distinguish between the two is to look for a tail. Monkeys have tails, while apes (gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans) do not.

Chimpanzees are omnivores. Their diet consists mostly of fruit and leaves. However, they also tend to eat insects, bark, eggs, nuts and even smaller monkeys or other animals for meat.

Chimps are highly intelligent when it comes to foraging for food. They are capable of remembering where food is located and when a particular fruit is ripe. They will also coordinate their efforts and share the meat amongst the group. It has also been observed that some chimpanzees may consume certain plants for medicinal purposes, like soothing an upset stomach or getting rid of intestinal parasites.

Chimps are Declining

  • Chimpanzees are among the most threatened primates in Africa for many reasons (Goodall 2001).
  • Fifty years ago, one million chimps were living in Africa. Today, it’s estimated that number has decreased to 170,000-300,000 wild chimps.
  • The Ivory Coast revealed that chimp population had decreased 90% in the last 20 years.
  • Chimpanzees are listed as “Endangered” according to the IUCN Red List.
  • 250 individuals are cared for in zoos throughout the United States.
  • Central chimps are the most abundant (80,000 found in Gabon & Congo); Eastern chimps ~ 13,000; Western chimps ~ 12,000

Habitat Destruction, hunting and disease are some of the primary threats to chimpanzees. Ultimately the major risk to chimpanzees and their habitats is human encroachment.

Thanks to Dr. Jane Goodall and her research, The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) was established to spread the conservation message by raising public awareness, advocating and promoting healthy habitats and sustainable livelihoods. JGI works to protect chimps and other great apes against disease transmission, illegal hunting and poaching, as well as human-wildlife conflict. JGI also uses the triangle approach, which relies on the cooperation between law enforcement, environmental education programs and sanctuaries. (Educate. Protect. Rescue)

Female Ramona grooms male Mookie.

Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga sanctuary has taken in hundreds of rescued, confiscated chimps since it was founded and provides them with lifetime care. During our Swing Break event, the Dallas Zoo is partnering with The Jane Goodall Institute to raise much-needed funds to feed and care for two rescued chimps.

 How YOU can help

Choosing sustainable forest products, recycle (especially cell phones), help stop the bushmeat trade, and support local farming are all major ways you can help protect chimps and their habitat.

Educating those around you about environmental issues and promoting conservation are simple yet effective actions you can take, too. Goodall strongly believes that it is our responsibility as humans to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

A group of Dallas Zoo interns, including myself, have organized a jammed-packed week full of fun events and conservation engagement. We hope you join us at the Dallas Zoo during SWING BREAK through March 18 to help us create a better world for animals.

We’ve set ambitious goals for chimp conservation and we need your help to reach them:

  1. $14,000 for chimpanzee conservation – food and care for two chimps rescued from the bushmeat and illegal wildlife trade
  2. 3,000 personal pledges for chimp conservation action
  3. 300 recycled mobile phones

Please support our efforts of raising funds for chimpanzees and the Jane Goodall Institute, so we can continue making a positive impact for the lives of great apes!

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

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