Birds

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

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

Spring season springs new chicks

With every spring comes another busy breeding season for Dallas Zoo’s bird team. This year, we’ve had success after success in breeding remarkable, threatened animals. The hatchlings are very carefully planned under recommendations from the Species Survival Plans, coordinated through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to help ensure the survival of threatened and endangered species. Here are our most recent chicks we’ve welcomed:

African penguins: We’ve had three hatch this spring! Jakada (male) hatched Feb. 26, Zebib (female) on March 5, and another on April 24 (still hasn’t been named yet). You may have seen Jakada’s and Zebib’s first swim recently. We’re now giving them pool time in their habitats for brief periods in the day, and will continue introducing them to the rest of the flock. Stop by their pool in the Wilds of Africa to catch a glimpse of these adorable chicks! (Our last chick to hatch will join the flock in the pool in late July).

Jakada and Zebib shortly after their hatchings.

The April 24 chick after its hatching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

King vulture: Hatched on April 3, this chick is melting hearts in its ZooNorth Wings of Wonder habitat. The little one will eventually develop a very colorful neck and head with varying colors, including yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red.

Southern ground hornbill: This little one was hatched on March 29. Fun fact — these are the “wolves of the bird world,” living in family groups. (In case you missed it, we welcomed our first-ever flock of chicks last year. This is a must-watch video!)

Yellow-billed storks: We hatched six of these chicks this season. This group is currently behind the scenes, but will most likely be in their habitat soon. These storks are a particularly big deal for us because we’re the only AZA-accredited zoo hatching them right now.

Marabou storks: Two of these chicks hatched this season, one on Jan. 30 and one on May 6. The first chick is in its habitat on the Gorilla Trail, and our second chick remains behind the scenes. We’re proud to care for one of the largest flocks of marabou stock in North America!

Hooded vulture: Hatched on May 16, this chick is currently on habitat in Wings of Wonder. Our other chick hatched May 22 and is in the saddle-billed stork habitat near Simmons Hippo Outpost. Check out the live-streaming “nestcam” video near the habitat to see this chick!

Hatching season still isn’t done! We still have more to share, including some hatchlings that are a first for us. Stay posted for more!

Categories: Birds, Penguins | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo animals bring smiles to tiny hospital patients and beyond

A small Children’s Health patient prepares to meet a Dallas Zoo animal ambassador penguin along with Outreach Supervisor Shannon College.

Whether it’s a tamandua high up in the sky at Reunion Tower or penguins at a Texas Rangers ballgame, you never quite know where the Dallas Zoo’s Animal Adventures outreach team will go next. With just seven staff members, the team carries out nearly 1,000 animal outreach programs a year across North Texas, bringing animal encounters to places like, schools, hospitals, businesses, convention centers, and many iconic Dallas locations.

When the small staff is not on the road, they’re tending to the needs of the 40 educational ambassador animals that delight, inspire and educate those attending an outreach experience. The job sounds demanding, however for Animal Adventures outreach team manager, Allyssa Leslie, the well-being of the ambassador animals remains top priority, “We work hard to ensure our animals feel safe and comfortable traveling with us. It’s great to see that when we go out to these events, the animals choose to come out with us because they know they’re safe and it’s interesting for them to go to new places.”

Despite all the variety this team experiences, some trips are so special that they’re repeated over and over again. Thanks to the Simmons Animal Safari program, and a treasured partnership with Children’s Health established in 2014, the outreach team returns to the hospital every few months to provide magical up-close animal encounters to small patients overcoming big obstacles.

The outreach team, including two-toed sloth Lola and African penguin duo, Sid and Jazz, arrive with the humble goal of encouraging smiles while gifting a special experience to those families who have more on their plate than planning a trip to the Zoo at this time.

Excitement filled the room as the children enjoyed the animals on stage.

“Even for the children that cannot physically come down to see the presentation, Children’s Health broadcasts the program into their rooms so they can enjoy it as well,” Leslie shares of the experience, “We are glad to be able to go out and hopefully bring some joy and fun memories for the patients and their families.”

Following the animal presentation, families are encouraged to come up close and commemorate the experience with a photo with an animal ambassador. Leslie watches on as the patients eagerly line up to have their moment at the front of the stage, “It’s so wonderful to see the excitement on the kids and their families’ faces when they get to see the animals so close!” she gushes.

At the close of the presentation, one last parting gift is revealed, each family is given tickets as a standing invitation to visit the Dallas Zoo. We look forward to many future visits to Children’s Health, bringing enjoyment to these extraordinary kids and their families with each animal encounter.

(Interested in hosting an Animal Adventures outreach program? Click here for more information.)

Categories: Education, Events, Penguins, Wild Encounters | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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