Africa

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: , , | 2 Comments

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: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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!

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Gorilla | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

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