Africa

Heeding the call: Earthwatch expedition to save chimpanzees

Cristina P. in Uganda on her Earthwatch expedition to BCFS.

Primate keeper Cristina P. guest blogs on ZooHoo!

In August of 2016 I received an unexpected call from the Dallas Zoo’s HR director. She informed me that I had been selected as one of the finalists for an Earthwatch Fellowship, and 9 months later I was on my way to an adventure I will never forget.

Our group met up at a hotel in Entebbe, a city on the Northern Shores of Lake Victoria, 23 miles from the national capital Kampala, Uganda. We had only 5 participants in our team – 3 from Australia, one from Switzerland, and myself. Being in a small group allowed us to really form personal connections, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet people from around the world, including the great people of Uganda.

Chimps gathered near our cabin in the forest.

We left for the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS), and 6 hours later we arrived to the most remote location I had ever been. The nearest town was 45 minutes away, I was not going to be in communication with anyone via phone or internet for the next 10 days, and primates were my new neighbors. I could not have been more excited.

We were surrounded by groups of blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys (also called guenons), baboons and black and white colobus. We saw many bushbucks (a brownish-red hoofed stock) as well as a few genets and civets at night. We heard the nightly calls of the tree hyrax.  Birds were abundant in the area making it a great spot for bird watchers. The butterflies were the prettiest I had ever seen.

BCFS has been around since 1990, and over the years, researchers have noticed that some of the fruit trees (which provide the chimps’ natural food source) have been producing drastically fewer amounts of fruit. The local villagers also believe that chimps and baboons have been raiding their crops more frequently. Could the decline of fruit availability be causing the increase in crop raiding? Could the fruit decrease be caused by global warming? Is this simply part of a natural cycle of the forest? The area had been exploited for many decades by the British for mahogany, so there’s also a theory that maybe as the forest regenerates and trees get taller, there is less sun getting through to the shorter fruit trees, thus affecting their development.

BCFS tries to look at every piece of the puzzle, so many of the tasks we performed were for the purpose of furthering this research. One day we set up mist nets in the forest to catch birds and catalog them, since they are important in spreading seeds (they were released after we were done with measurements, banding and pictures). BCFS field assistants monitor types of leaves and fruit levels on around 1,400 fruit trees in the area, so we assisted in data collection for that project as well.  But most importantly, we observed 2 troops of chimpanzees, which was an experience like no other.

We observed this chimp enjoying a snack.

Some days, we’d start walking before dawn so we could find the chimps as they were waking up. One of the groups, called Sonso has been studied since the beginning of the project and is fully habituated, which means they see the people as part of their environment and do not mind human presence. The second group, Waibira, has been studied since 2011 and are still in the process of habituation. For the purposes of minimizing disease transmission and our safety we were told to keep a distance of approximately 23 feet to the chimps. The only problem with that was the animals don’t know that rule and at times came pretty close to us. It was fascinating to be so close to an animal that is so strong and powerful, yet they seemed to just go about their day as if we weren’t even there.

A chimp is observed with injuries from being caught in a snare.

We also had the chance to assist the snare removal team. In this particular area, chimps are not hunted for bush meat. Instead the targets are bush pigs, blue and red duikers, and bushbucks. Unfortunately though, chimps inadvertently get caught in those, and about 25% of the animals in this area have a snare-related injury. One particular female had gotten caught by a snare 3 different times! They have even been observed trying to free one another from the snares. It was also noted that there was no difference in how the injured chimps were treated by their troop and they seem to eventually adapt to their new reality of missing fingers, toes, etc. Unfortunately some are not so lucky and do end up dying from their injuries. Occasionally the BCFS veterinary team will sedate an injured chimp and remove a snare if the animal is left behind by its troop.

On one of our last days we visited a nearby village to interview the local farmers and learn about the impact that chimps, baboons, and small monkeys have on their crops. Years ago, BCFS helped them identify what kinds of foods would be least appealing to the animals and provided them with seeds, which were then planted near the forest edge. They do this in the hopes that the animals might keep walking further out to search for foods they like better. The farmers depend on these crops, not only for income, but also to feed their families.

Leaving BCFS was bittersweet. I still miss seeing the chimps and all the people I met! But since I’ve returned from Uganda, I have a renewed hope that there are people out there doing amazing things every day to save these animals from extinction.

Categories: Africa, Chimpanzee, Conservation, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Boipelo update: a Q&A with mammal supervisor Megan L.

Boipelo has been adjusting well after the loss of her companion, Adhama.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received in the past two weeks since Adhama’s sudden passing. Many of you have reached out with questions about how Boipelo has been adjusting, so we sat down with Megan L. (Dallas Zoo mammal supervisor, and one of our primary hippo keepers) to give you an update.

In general, how has Boipelo been feeling and behaving since Adhama’s passing?

She is an incredibly strong and resilient animal. But she has just been a little bit slower to do things that she would’ve done faster in Adhama’s company. Boipelo is a shy individual as it is, so she is just taking a little longer to feel confident in certain situations. With Adhama, she would pretty much encourage him to do everything before her. It was always: “You go check out that enrichment device/toy/new snack first.” And that goes back to hippos’ group mentality. The dominant animals will typically have other members of the group check things out first, to be sure they’re safe.

She’s doing great at interacting with us during training sessions and keeper chats. We train for husbandry behaviors – like ultrasounds and other routine medical procedures – that allow our animals to voluntarily participate in their own healthcare.

We’ve also seen her on the monitors at night playing with her favorite giant ball. She’ll push it back and forth in her pool behind the scenes. And she’s maintained a consistent appetite and normal feeding schedule throughout this time. These behaviors indicate to us that she’s adjusting and doing well.

How have keeper interactions with her changed?

She has a team of at least four people that work with her regularly, and she interacts extremely well with all of us. Relationship-building takes time, especially with her since she is naturally shy. That makes it really rewarding when you get those positive reactions from her though. And she’s getting a lot of extra attention. Yesterday, she was laying down, and we got down next to her and she was vocalizing and seemed excited to have that interaction and connection with us in that moment. She is getting lots of treats and attention from all of her keepers.

What kinds of things did you do to make sure Boipelo was doing well in those first days after Adhama’s death?

We wanted her routine to be as normal as possible. We did go out to her behind-the-scenes habitat and interact with her a bit more in those first few days, just to try to make her feel comfortable. She didn’t engage with the offer of interaction with us every time. But we wanted to give her plenty of opportunity for attention if she wanted it.

How are you and Adhama’s other keepers dealing with his loss personally?  

We’re animal professionals. Loss is a part of our job, because that’s part of the circle of life. It’s always hard. He was very charming and one of those animals that was such a joy to be around. We’ll never be able to forget him, and of course we wouldn’t want to. But the focus is now on caring for our other animals, including Boipelo, which makes it easier to keep going.

One thing that has helped us is seeing the public sharing pictures and memories of him – it reminds us how much he meant to people. He used to go to the glass and just hang out with guests. That was so “him” – giving a part of himself to the public, and it was a really magical thing. Think about all the zoo animals…which ones respond and seem to interact with guests like that? They don’t have to do that. But Adhama did.

We also SO appreciate everyone’s kind words of support during this time. It means so much to us to read all of the comments on social media – they have really touched us and made us feel so supported.

Will the Dallas Zoo bring in another hippo as a companion for Boipelo?

That’s the plan, but the time frame is still to be determined. We’re in no rush. In time, we’ll work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Hippo Species Survival Plan team to try to identify a potential companion for our Boipelo.

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Simmons Hippo Outpost, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo devastated by sudden loss of male hippo Adhama

Adhama’s sudden passing has shaken the Dallas Zoo family.

Dallas Zoo is saddened to announce that 7-year-old male hippo Adhama passed away suddenly on Tuesday evening.

The hippo keepers and our veterinary team had been monitoring Adhama’s health since late last week, after observing some lethargy and a diminished appetite. Adhama spent Monday and Tuesday behind the scenes under observation and resting, but there was nothing to indicate a serious issue. After hours on Tuesday evening, keepers observed via closed-circuit video that Adhama seemed to be non-responsive, and our animal care team responded immediately. Unfortunately, the team found that he had passed away suddenly with no external signs of stress or trauma.

Preliminary findings from the veterinary team indicate severe enteritis, which is an acute inflammation of the intestine. According to the veterinary team, given the condition of Adhama’s organs and his fat reserves, this does not appear to have been a long-term illness. The team is continuing to study the situation to learn more, but given the lack of significant symptoms, the team is confident there’s nothing they would have done differently.

Adhama arrived at the Dallas Zoo in 2017, when we opened the Simmons Hippo Outpost.

“From the time he arrived here at the Dallas Zoo, Adhama captivated us all with his curious nature and larger-than-life personality. He was a wonderful ambassador as we opened our Simmons Hippo Outpost and reintroduced hippos to Dallas last year,” said Gregg Hudson, President and CEO of the Dallas Zoo. “Our entire team is understandably shaken, given the suddenness of Adhama’s passing. Please keep our entire staff in your thoughts during this difficult time.”

Adhama and Boipelo came to the Dallas Zoo in March 2017 (from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens and Albuquerque Zoo, respectively), ahead of the opening of the Zoo’s Simmons Hippo Outpost in April. These two hippos were matched on a breeding recommendation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.

The two quickly bonded and became an adorable pair, enjoying lounging together on the habitat’s sand beach or taking naps in the 120,000-gallon pool.

“We know so many people in our extended Zoo family share in our sadness since we have enjoyed watching Adhama and Boipelo as their personalities and relationship developed over these last 18-plus months,” said Hudson.

Boipelo gave birth to a calf in February 2018, but the calf did not survive. The hippo keepers report that Boipelo is subdued in the initial hours since Adhama’s passing. The team is focused on ensuring she is maintaining as much of a routine as possible in spite of the loss of her mate. She will be given access to the habitat starting today, but the Zoo staff will follow her lead on her day-to-day availability.

The Zoo will continue to provide updates as more information is available.

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Simmons Hippo Outpost | 21 Comments

Dallas Zoo mourns the loss of beloved red river hog, Hank

With heavy hearts, we announce that 15-year-old red river hog Hank passed away due to T-cell lymphoma. Hank was loved by our animal care staff and guests alike, and will be greatly missed.

Hank was loved by many, and will be missed.

In January of 2017, routine bloodwork showed that Hank’s white blood cell count was extremely elevated. After further testing, he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma – a type of cancer that begins in immune system cells and affects the lymph nodes. Hank was moved to a special area behind the scenes where he could be more comfortable during his oral chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy can cause some negative side effects, but Hank thankfully displayed none and continued to be a happy and active hog during his nearly two years of treatment. He even enjoyed going out into the exhibit with his friend, Zena, at least once a week for a few hours, before returning to his enclosure behind the scenes for an afternoon nap.

Our dedicated animal care staff worked very closely with Hank during his illness. In addition to his treatment, keepers saw to it that he had plenty of enrichment and training activities to encourage his natural behaviors and keep him mentally stimulated. Mulberry logs were his favorite. Keepers say that he would spend hours chewing all of the bark off of them. Animal care staff members spend a lot of their day behind the scenes, so Hank received lots of love and attention. He particularly enjoyed getting belly scratches, which keepers were always happy to give.

Prior to Hank’s treatment, there was very little information available about using chemotherapy to treat hogs with lymphoma. Our veterinary staff were unsure what to expect, but because they chose to proceed with Hank’s treatment, we were able to give him nearly two more years of happy and enriched life following his diagnosis. Veterinary staff gathered significant information during Hank’s treatment that could potentially help other animals in the future, here at the Dallas Zoo and elsewhere.

Since Hank was with us for 8 years (he came to us from San Diego Zoo), many of our keepers got to care for and love him. Here are some of their fondest memories:

“I worked with Hank at my last zoo. Every time he heard a tractor come by, he would run and vocalize with excitement. And, when approached would immediately lay down for scratches. He greeted me with that same excitement, every single time!“ – Tanya B.

“If you just lightly touched his belly while he was standing, Hank would tip over like a tree falling and lay there waiting for belly rubs. I also loved to push his pine shavings into a giant pile and watch him bury himself completely in them when he went to bed. “– Jessi V.

“Hank used to run laps around his habitat. When he finally completed the behavior you’d see him sprint around the corner to the ‘finish line’ with his ear tassels just flying in the wind. In that moment, he seemed like the happiest hog on earth.” –Christina E.

Categories: Africa, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | 1 Comment

Celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day at the Dallas Zoo

Help us #SaveOurScavengers

 

Known as “nature’s clean-up crew,” vultures have a pretty dirty job. But they play such a vital role in their ecosystems, and they help out humans too! Unlike other birds of prey vultures are scavengers, which means they eat carrion (aka, dead animals). This helps prevent the spread of diseases such as rabies, anthrax, cholera, botulism, and tuberculosis, which can often be found in those animal carcasses.

What a thankless job. Luckily, vultures are equipped with adaptations that help them thrive in this role.

  • Vultures’ highly acidic stomach acid and super strong immune system allow them to eat decaying and potentially infectious meat that would make most other animals sick.
  • Some vulture species rely on keen eyesight to locate their food; others rely on their keen sense of smell to search out hidden carcasses by detecting gasses that are released during decomposition.
  • Vultures will vomit up semi-digested food to ward off predators, or to help lighten their weight if they need to escape from a predator quickly.
  • Many species of vultures have bald heads – there is speculation that this helps them stay clean, but this may also help them with temperature regulation.

Unfortunately, these amazing birds are under siege when it comes to survival.

  • 16 of the 23 vulture species in the world are considered threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.
  • Vultures have been disappearing from Africa at an alarming pace over the last 30 years, having declined between 62-95% across the continent.
  • Globally, vultures are the most endangered group of birds.

Vultures are being poisoned by the thousands, especially in Africa and Asia; sometimes indirectly by farmers who poison large carnivores that threaten their livestock. The vultures consume the poisoned carcasses, and die as a result. More alarming is that poachers have begun intentionally poisoning the carcasses of poached animals to kill off vultures who may give away their location to authorities.

Which is why the first Saturday of September is now known as International Vulture Awareness Day, to help raise awareness about vultures and the conservation issues they face around the world.

Vultures at the Dallas Zoo

We love our vultures here at the Dallas Zoo! We care for eight different species, and we take pride in educating our community about the importance of saving these amazing birds.

You may have seen our black vulture, Baldwin, strut his stuff on the Wild Encounters Stage. Baldwin has been making our guests fall in love with vultures since 2016, when he came to us from a local rehabilitation facility. Fittingly enough, his third birthday falls on International Vulture Awareness Day this year.

“We love introducing Baldwin to our guests!” says Robin Ryan, Supervisor of Animal Encounters. “He has such charisma and personality, which I think can inspire people to see vultures in a more positive way.”

We’re also celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day throughout the weekend, during our special Member Mornings events this Saturday and Sunday. Members can join us for a private Vulture Keeper Chat both days at 8:30 a.m. in front of the vulture habitat, and we’ll have special vulture-themed arts & crafts projects.

We hope you’ll join us in wishing Baldwin the happiest of birthdays. And use International Vulture Awareness Day as your incentive to help us change this species’ reputation – toss out some of the fun facts above and tell others about these crazy-cool birds.

Not a member? Click here for more information, and to join today!

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

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