Africa

Dallas Zoo helps lead international emergency rescue to save over 1,800 flamingo chicks in South Africa

Two of the rescued lesser flamingo chicks cuddle up at the SPCA in Kimberley, South Africa.

The most urgent, wide-scale rescue of wild lesser flamingo chicks in South Africa is underway after 1,800 chicks were found abandoned at their nesting grounds. The international zoo and aquarium community has joined forces to help save the chicks in a massive rescue operation, sending critical funds and avian experts from across the world to South Africa.

A severe drought has affected Kamfers Dam in Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, causing adult flamingos to abandon their nests, leaving thousands of eggs and chicks behind. With only four breeding colonies of lesser flamingos in Africa and one other in India, Kamfers Dam is one of the most important breeding locations for this species in the world.

Dallas Zoo’s Senior Zoologist Julie Farrington hand feeds a rescued chick.

The Dallas Zoo is leading an emergency rescue effort to funnel funding to South Africa in coordination with the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA). The Dallas Zoo has contributed $18,500 to the rescue effort, and is sending multiple waves of support staff to Kimberley. Animal Care Supervisor Kevin Graham and Senior Zoologist Julie Farrington arrived in Kimberley last week, and Dallas Zoo veterinarian Dr. Marren Connolly and veterinary technician Cassandra Reid arrived Sunday and will remain there for three weeks.

Multiple accredited U.S. zoos and aquariums have also contributed nearly $20,000 to the rescue mission, with donations continuing to roll in. (For individuals who would like to donate to the recovery effort, please do so HERE.)

“If the zoo community had not stepped in to help, it is unlikely these chicks would have survived,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “Flamingos have rarely been treated in any significant numbers by wildlife rehabilitation facilities. Since we are backed with decades of experience in this, our animal care experts are uniquely qualified to assist in hand-rearing these orphaned lesser flamingos. The world’s accredited zoos and aquariums are no doubt at the forefront of lifesaving conservation work, and we will continue to send our experts to the frontlines when animals need help.”

“To see our worldwide community of wildlife conservationists come together to save these birds from near death is remarkable,” said John Werth, Executive Director of the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA). “Zoos and aquariums have the resources and expertise to save species and our swift action to protect these flamingos is proof of that.”

The 1,800 chicks are being cared for at a number of PAAZA accredited zoos and aquariums, plus, certified partners like SANCCOB, as well as, by staff at the SPCA in Kimberley. An international team of conservationists, zoologists, vet staff, and more are working around the clock to bring the chicks up to good health. The ultimate goal is to release the birds that have been successfully rehabilitated back into their natural habitat by late May, so they can rejoin the flock.

“We’re working 12-hour shifts at the SPCA in Kimberley where the youngest and most critically ill flamingo chicks are being cared for,” said Kevin Graham, Dallas Zoo’s Animal Care Supervisor of Birds. “We hand feed the chicks every few hours, and are constantly monitoring their health. We are running on very little sleep but it’s extremely rewarding work knowing we’re keeping these incredible birds alive.”

With nearly 20,000 birds nesting at Kamfers Dam, a significant hit to the flock could pose long-term problems for the population without intervention. Conservationists are working to implement a detailed plan of action for the future, should a rescue mission like this occur again.

Lesser flamingos are currently listed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Species (IUCN), primarily due to habitat destruction and climate change. It is the smallest species of the six species of flamingos in the world. They’re found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and some parts of India.

The Dallas Zoo cares for more than 30 lesser flamingo chicks in the Wilds of Africa section of the zoo.

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

A day in the life of a zookeeper in North Savanna

Witten and his mom enjoy a January day in the North Savanna habitat.

It’s 7 a.m. on a chilly January morning. Lisa Fitzgerald and her team are huddled around a table for their daily status meeting. There were no stops for coffee on their way into work this morning. No hitting the snooze button. No late starts. They can’t. That’s because they have ten hungry giraffe, five kudu, four ostriches and 14 guinea fowl depending on them, regardless of the weather or time of year. But they’re not complaining – they love these animals and are some of the most passionate, dedicated people you’ll ever encounter.

This is an inside look at how just one of our many teams of zookeepers provide the highest level of care to the 2,000-plus animals of the Dallas Zoo – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Get eyes on the animals
The first item on their to-do list in the morning is to get a visual on each and every animal. The team of 12 keepers splits up into two groups – one team handles the giraffe herd, the other takes care of the hoofstock and birds. As they walk their respective barns, the keepers take note of anything that seems off or may have changed overnight. On a chilly night, all the animals remain indoors in their cozy, heated barns.

Keepers preparing morning meals for our giraffe herd.

Breakfast time
Next step is morning meals for everyone. Each species (and in some cases, each individual animal) receives specialized diets according to their needs. Keepers lug huge bowls full of spinach and pellets in for the ostriches at one barn. Simultaneously, another keeper prepares fresh produce for the giraffe in the other barn.

Prep the habitat
The habitats then need to be prepared for the animals to go out for the day, if weather allows. In case of freezing temperatures or inclement weather, most animals will remain in the comfort of their barns. Since the North Savanna is home to several different species, the whole team helps with this step. They walk the entire expansive habitat to check for hazards like fallen trees or litter that may have made its way in. Once that’s done and any hazards have been cleared, they scatter food and enrichment items for the animals to enjoy throughout the day.

Keepers getting the habitat ready for the animals to go out for the day.

Shifting – what is that?
In the world of zookeepers, moving the animals from one place to another is referred to as “shifting.” But this doesn’t happen unless the animals are willing participants. You can’t make a 17-foot tall, 2,500-pound giraffe do anything he doesn’t want to do. Getting animals comfortable with shifting takes time, patience and relationship-building. They’re given tons of positive reinforcement and treats each time they choose to participate.

Shifting four different species is no easy feat, but the keepers have it down to a science. Ostriches are the first out, and they go right to their stations where fresh spinach treats await them. Next are the kudu, who follow suit and wait patiently at their designated station as keepers feed them romaine lettuce. Then come the giraffe who are split into two groups – one goes out to the feeding habitat, and one to the larger Savanna habitat. Both groups are greeted with romaine and carrots to keep them at their stations until all is done. Finally, the guinea fowl follow suit. Once every animal has left the barns, the gates are closed and the animals are free to roam the expansive Savanna and enjoy their day. Keepers then will clean up the barns and prepare for the animals to come back inside at the end of the day.

Beau the kudu receives a lettuce treat (aka positive reinforcement) for choosing to go to his station during shifting.

Wrapping Up
The team may also hold a few animals back to work on training behaviors for routine health checks and more. Training is an essential part of their daily routine and helps reinforce their relationship with the animals they care for. In addition, our keepers contribute to animal research and help develop best practices for accredited zoos around the country. Their days are long but rewarding in every sense.

Once the Zoo is closed to the public, it’s time to bring everyone back inside. Before they know it, the keepers’ ten-hour day is over and they leave “the office” knowing their work has made an impact caring for some of the most majestic animals on earth. They’re excited to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

Categories: Africa, Giraffe, Zookeepers | 3 Comments

Penguin profiles

6 of our 8 penguins at Penguin Cove! From top to bottom: Klondike, Marina, Tazo, Pickles, Charlee, Opus

It’s Penguin Days presented by Highland Capital Management at the Dallas Zoo! In honor of this cool $8 deal, we’d like to introduce you to 8 very special birds.  The members of our African penguin flock at the Don Glendenning Penguin Cove are pair-bonded, which means they sleep, eat and play together, and a few of them are also breeding pairs. Basically they’re bffs, which we think is pretty sweet.

African penguins are endangered, but YOU can make a big difference at home. Two of the major threats facing penguins are pollution and over-fishing. Here are a few easy ways you can help:

  • Reduce your plastic use to keep it out of oceans
    • Say no to plastic straws
    • Use reusable canvas bags instead of plastic ones
  • Always buy sustainably raised of caught seafood.

Opus gazes up at his keepers.

Opus

  • Born: December 21, 2016
  • Opus is our baby! At just two years old, this curious boy loves to be part of the action. He’s constantly running around playing and just being a rambunctious toddler.

Marina

  • Born: April 15, 2015
  • Marina is the introverted, artistic type. She’s shy, sweet and loves to paint! You can pick up one of her masterpieces in the Zoofari pop-up tent by the front gates. Proceeds benefit enrichment items for our animals.

Splash

  • Born: November 2, 1992
  • The oldest member of the flock, Splash is our feisty mother “hen.” When Splash has eggs or chicks to raise, she will defend them fiercely. She’s definitely mom goals, that’s for sure.

Klondike

  • Born: September 2, 1997
  • Klondike is a loving, dedicated dad and loyal to his mate, Splash! He loves her more than anything.

Pickles (on the rock), Tazo, Althea and Charlee at Penguin Cove.

Pickles

  • Born: April 9, 2011
  • Pickles is the social butterfly of the bunch. You’ve probably seen him greeting you at the viewing window at the Penguin Cove. He loves company and interaction! And he just hates to be without his mate, Althea.

Althea

  • Born: March 21, 2011
  • This girl is sassy and fearless! Althea is usually the first penguin to investigate new things – whether it’s a new food item, or training activity, she’s the bold one who leads the way.

Charlee

  • Born: May 7, 2015
  • Charlee is another feisty lady – with a big appetite! She definitely loves meal time, and her keepers love to watch her fun personality.

Tazo

  • Born: January 1, 2011
  • Tazo is the flock sweetheart. He’s one laid-back guy and a smart cookie too! He loves to participate in training and usually picks up new behaviors lightning fast.

Be sure to stop by Penguin Cove on your next visit! Plus, during the month of January, celebrate Penguin Days with some extra fun activities. Click HERE to learn more.

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation, Penguins | 2 Comments

Dallas Zoo staffers awarded nearly $70,000 in funding from National Geographic Society for conservation work

Penguin nesting project and amphibian conservation to be funded through National Geographic Society Grants

Two of our team members will join the ranks of renowned conservationists like Jane Goodall and Jacques Cousteau, as National Geographic Explorers, working on personal field conservation projects across the globe.

Dallas Zoo’s Animal Care Supervisor of Birds Kevin Graham was awarded a $50,000 grant in support of his project: “Using Artificial Nests to Improve Breeding Success of Endangered African Penguins.” Additionally, Curator of Ectotherms Ruston Hartdegen was awarded $18,955 in support of his project: “Expanding an Amphibian Rescue Center at the Dallas Zoo.”

Kevin Graham on South Africa’s Dyer Island installing the artificial nests.

“Receiving grants of this magnitude from National Geographic Society really shows the advances our team is making in the field of wildlife conservation,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “These are lifesaving undertakings that Kevin and Ruston have worked at length on – they had to prove successful completion of similar projects with measurable results before being awarded the grants. Now, we can make an even bigger impact for endangered African penguins and near-extinct frogs.”

Protecting penguins

In addition to caring for Dallas Zoo’s birds, Graham has worked hard to save African black-footed penguins in South Africa for the past three years as the Artificial Nest Development Project Coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). He leads a team that studies, designs and installs artificial nests for the penguins to lay eggs in.

Over the past 100 years, the population of African penguins has declined from more than two million breeding pairs to slightly more than 20,000 breeding pairs left – that’s a more than 98-percent population decline mainly due to improper nests that fail to protect their eggs.

African penguins burrow and nest in guano (a term for their poop), but decades ago, Europeans and South Africans began removing the guano to use as fertilizer, leaving the penguins’ eggs vulnerable to predation, human activity, and the elements. There are currently only 27 natural guano nests left.

An African penguin sits on an egg inside the artificial nest.

In February 2018, Graham joined forces with AZA scientists, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA) to install 200 artificial nests in two South African penguin colonies. After extensively testing various artificial nest prototypes, two designs were penguin-approved. At the end of the testing period, the scientists learned that approximately 96 percent of the nests in the study were utilized by the penguins, just over 80 percent had eggs laid in them, and more than 56 percent had successful chicks.

Over the next few months, the team will build 600 more nests to install, which is where the grant funding will come into play. Long-term, Graham hopes to have 6,000-7,000 nests installed in total.

“Our vision is to eventually achieve large-scale implementation that will allow thousands of penguin pairs access to suitable nesting locations, improving the current breeding success rate, and establishing population sustainability and stability,” said Graham. “There are other threats hurting African penguins – over-fishing, climate change, and marine pollution – but it feels good knowing that right now we’re taking immediate action to save them, and if nothing else, at least we gave them a place to raise kids.”

Hopping to the rescue

With one-third to one-half of all amphibian species worldwide threatened with extinction, conservation action is absolutely critical to preserving herpetological biodiversity. The Dallas Zoo is taking the next step to develop assurance populations of three threatened amphibian species – the dusky gopher frog, the Houston toad, and the Puerto Rican crested toad.

Ruston Hartdegen releases a dusky gopher froglet back into Mississippi’s DeSoto National Forest.

This past summer, we opened a behind-the-scenes Amphibian Rescue Center where our herpetologists are working to produce healthy offspring to release back into their natural environments.

We are already leading efforts to protect the dusky gopher frog, one of the most endangered amphibians in the world. In October 2018, herpetologists released new froglets from our existing dusky gopher frog population into their native habitat of Mississippi, where the frog is endemic to only three small ponds in the DeSoto National Forest.

“Without conservation efforts like our zoological breeding program, many endangered species would become extinct in the wild,” said Hartdegen. “Amphibians are critical to our environment. Known as ‘indicator species,’ they’re used to gauge the health of their ecosystems – the moment they’re in decline, we know that habitat has been compromised due to problems like, pollution, habitat destruction, or disease.”

With the help of the National Geographic Society grant, Hartdegen is expanding the Amphibian Rescue Center to accommodate two new breed-and-release programs – the Houston toad (currently only found in three Texas counties) and the Puerto Rican crested toad (the only native toad on the island) – helping a total of three species increase their numbers while protecting genetic diversity.

A dusky gopher frog at the Dallas Zoo Amphibian Rescue Center before its release.

The National Geographic Society funding marks the first time our staffers have received support from the Society in its history. Since its inception 130 years ago, the National Geographic Society has supported the work of more than 3,000 Explorers in the field.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Penguins, Reptiles and Amphibians | Tags: | Leave a comment

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

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