Africa

 
 

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
 
 

Getting submerged in new training

Our hippos, Boipelo and Adhama, love to show off their skills during keeper chats!

Dallas Zoo Hippo Keepers Christina E. and Christine S. guest blog on ZooHoo!

We train almost every animal that calls the Zoo home. Training lets animals participate in their own care and enables staff to provide excellent animal husbandry. It can be something as simple as teaching the animal to shift from one space to another. Or as complex as training the animal to allow ultrasounds. Animals, like the hippos, can be asked to present certain body parts to keepers to facilitate routine checkups, or to open their mouths for teeth examinations and x-rays. To do this we use operant conditioning, focusing on positive reinforcement techniques. This means if the animal does the behavior we ask, they are rewarded. A reinforcement or reward can be anything the animal enjoys. Food is the most common reinforcer, but some animals prefer attention, tactile reinforcement, or their favorite enrichment item.

Keeper Christina E.
and Adhama during a recent training session.

At the Simmons Hippo Outpost, our hippos LOVE to show off trained behaviors that they have learned over the last year. During our keeper interactions, you may have seen Adhama and Boipelo opening their mouths to present their teeth, swimming across the pool, or targeting. Targeting is one of the first behaviors most animals learn because it is a good starting tool that leads to more complex behaviors. Adhama and Boipelo are asked to touch their noses to the end of the target. Their target stick is a long bamboo pole with a buoy on the end that’s lightweight and floats, making it ideal for our hippos. This behavior is typically easy to teach.  Most animals are curious by nature, so when the target is first presented they want to examine it and come closer. After they take that first step towards it, they’re rewarded. They continue to be rewarded the closer they get until finally touching the target. Once the animal learns that touching this target gets them a reward, it becomes one of their favorite behaviors.

Keeper Christine S. works with Boipelo on target training.

We recently started training some behaviors at our underwater viewing area, which brings Adhama and Boipelo so close that you just might think you’re in the water with them.  Boipelo is a pro at targeting underwater, while Adhama prefers to stay above the surface at the moment. Boipelo tends to be shyer in front of crowds and lets her boyfriend shine. Adhama definitely likes to monopolize the spotlight and will do some targeting, opening his mouth, and moving back and forth across the window.

 

In Greek, Hippopotamus means “river horse,” and they do look like graceful horses trotting in slow motion underwater. However, don’t let this fool you! Hippos are actually closest related to whales and dolphins. With this up-close view you can really examine them to see some of the similarities they have with their relatives.

The training at the underwater viewing area is still in the early stages, but the hippos and trainers are enjoying this new level of interaction. Come by Simmons Hippo Outpost to see Adhama and Boipelo in action!

Categories: Africa, Simmons Hippo Outpost, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Dallas Zoo animal staff remain committed to our animals throughout their golden years

We love all of our animals at the Dallas Zoo, but our geriatric animals are some of the most special. When some of our animals reach retirement age and are no longer comfortable shifting in and out of their habitats, we move them to an area behind the scenes designed for their comfort, where dedicated keepers care for their every need.

Dara, the yellow-backed duiker

For Dara, the yellow-backed duiker, that time came about six years ago. Dara was one of our oldest and most beloved residents, and sadly, she passed away recently from age-related health issues. At age 26, she lived to be the oldest duiker in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and she had a wonderful and gentle personality.

Duikers are a type of African antelope. Their name means “diver” in Afrikaans, because they dive into vegetation and brush when spooked. Native to Central and Western Africa, adult duikers have a bold yellow stripe down their back, which becomes more visible when they’re on alert and their hair stands up.

Duikers are very intelligent – their brains are proportionally larger than other hoofstock, such as some antelope and gazelles. Most are hesitant of new things before they learn more about them, but Dara was very curious and loved to explore her surroundings. She absolutely loved pumpkins! She would roll them up and down the length of her habitat before finally eating them.

Although it was tough to say goodbye, we are proud to have provided Dara with the best possible care during her golden years. Her keepers made sure she had mats covering the floor of her stall so that she had better traction and a softer surface for her joints. Her keepers also performed routine hoof care, gave her hoof and joint supplements, and of course, lots of love and attention. Zoo staff say that it was such a privilege to care for Dara. She will be missed!

Honeydew, the tapir, enjoyed a special “cake” for her 35th birthday (January 2016)

Our other senior resident is 37-year-old Honeydew, a South American tapir. She is currently living out her “retirement” away from public view, where she is pampered with brushes, baths, special foot care, and leisurely swims in her personal pool. Honeydew’s sweet demeanor makes her a joy to care for and a keeper-favorite!

Categories: Africa, Uncategorized, Veterinary Care | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

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.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Gorilla | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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