Saving chimps: Help protect one of our closest relatives

Little Mshindi and female Koko share a moment. (Photo by Jackie Smith)

Conservation and Community Engangement Intern Alicia Moreau guest-blogs about Chimpanzee Action Awareness Week on Zoohoo! 

“When you meet chimps, you meet individual personalities. When a baby chimp looks at you, it’s just like a human baby. We have a responsibility for them.” ~ Jane Goodall

Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than we may think. We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees and quite a few personality traits.

In 1962, virtually nothing was known about chimps in the wild. Jane Goodall changed all that. She dedicated her life to researching and observing chimps by sharing a special bond with them — she says, “One touch started a revolution.” Goodall is the reason we know so much about chimps and the personalities they possess. They share our emotions of pleasure, joy, and sadness.

Chimpanzees are very social animals and thrive in communities of about 15-20 consisting of both genders. However, they tend to feed, travel and sleep in a smaller community consisting of six or fewer. One may say that this is related to humans due to our nature of establishing close knit groups of friends and/or family we surround ourselves with on a regular basis.

Chimps are also related to us in their ability to communicate through complex systems of vocalizations, gestures, body postures and facial expressions. Grooming is an important example of their social nature. They participate in grooming for two main purposes: cleaning and establishing bonds between family and friends. It’s a critical action that helps them maintain friendships and comfort each other after a hard time or disagreement.

Mshindi hangs from a tree branch in the Kimberly-Clark Chimpanzee Forest. (Photo by Jackie Smith)

The use of tools was first observed by Goodall when she witnessed a chimp use the stem of a branch to collect termites for food. After this groundbreaking discovery, more evidence has been found all throughout Africa. Chimpanzees use rocks as hammers; anvils to open nuts; leaves as napkins or sponges; sticks to open beehives for honey and create spears to kill small mammals.

It’s a Chimp’s Life

Chimps are actually great apes and not monkeys. An easy way to distinguish between the two is to look for a tail. Monkeys have tails, while apes (gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans) do not.

Chimpanzees are omnivores. Their diet consists mostly of fruit and leaves. However, they also tend to eat insects, bark, eggs, nuts and even smaller monkeys or other animals for meat.

Chimps are highly intelligent when it comes to foraging for food. They are capable of remembering where food is located and when a particular fruit is ripe. They will also coordinate their efforts and share the meat amongst the group. It has also been observed that some chimpanzees may consume certain plants for medicinal purposes, like soothing an upset stomach or getting rid of intestinal parasites.

Chimps are Declining

  • Chimpanzees are among the most threatened primates in Africa for many reasons (Goodall 2001).
  • Fifty years ago, one million chimps were living in Africa. Today, it’s estimated that number has decreased to 170,000-300,000 wild chimps.
  • The Ivory Coast revealed that chimp population had decreased 90% in the last 20 years.
  • Chimpanzees are listed as “Endangered” according to the IUCN Red List.
  • 250 individuals are cared for in zoos throughout the United States.
  • Central chimps are the most abundant (80,000 found in Gabon & Congo); Eastern chimps ~ 13,000; Western chimps ~ 12,000

Habitat Destruction, hunting and disease are some of the primary threats to chimpanzees. Ultimately the major risk to chimpanzees and their habitats is human encroachment.

Thanks to Dr. Jane Goodall and her research, The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) was established to spread the conservation message by raising public awareness, advocating and promoting healthy habitats and sustainable livelihoods. JGI works to protect chimps and other great apes against disease transmission, illegal hunting and poaching, as well as human-wildlife conflict. JGI also uses the triangle approach, which relies on the cooperation between law enforcement, environmental education programs and sanctuaries. (Educate. Protect. Rescue)

Female Ramona grooms male Mookie.

Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga sanctuary has taken in hundreds of rescued, confiscated chimps since it was founded and provides them with lifetime care. During our Swing Break event, the Dallas Zoo is partnering with The Jane Goodall Institute to raise much-needed funds to feed and care for two rescued chimps.

 How YOU can help

Choosing sustainable forest products, recycle (especially cell phones), help stop the bushmeat trade, and support local farming are all major ways you can help protect chimps and their habitat.

Educating those around you about environmental issues and promoting conservation are simple yet effective actions you can take, too. Goodall strongly believes that it is our responsibility as humans to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

A group of Dallas Zoo interns, including myself, have organized a jammed-packed week full of fun events and conservation engagement. We hope you join us at the Dallas Zoo during SWING BREAK through March 18 to help us create a better world for animals.

We’ve set ambitious goals for chimp conservation and we need your help to reach them:

  1. $14,000 for chimpanzee conservation – food and care for two chimps rescued from the bushmeat and illegal wildlife trade
  2. 3,000 personal pledges for chimp conservation action
  3. 300 recycled mobile phones

Please support our efforts of raising funds for chimpanzees and the Jane Goodall Institute, so we can continue making a positive impact for the lives of great apes!

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

Former Dallas Zoo camper turns passion for marine life into ‘ReefLove’

Mary Katherine Futrell shows what a healthy coral reef looks like (left jar) opposed to coral bleaching (right jar).

We feel like we’ve won Olympic gold when we learn about kids who grew up going to the Dallas Zoo and turned their passion for animals and nature into conservation projects and careers. Bishop Lynch High School sophomore Mary Katherine Futrell is doing just that.

When Mary Katherine was six years old as a camper in Dallas Zoo’s summer camp, she met Mango, an African penguin she still remembers today. Interacting with Mango helped shape what kind of work she wanted to do as she got older. Now, she’s teaching our community to protect marine life.

“All of the animal encounters we got to do during camp were just so crazy awesome,” said Futrell. “We got to see what’s in the wild and what we need to help protect. The staff was so passionate and engaging. We got to do so much hands-on stuff that I was like, ‘Wow, I really want to work with animals when I grow up.’”

When our famous Texas heat rolls in, most people will put on sunscreen before heading out to enjoy the sun. But did you know you could actually help the environment by avoiding sunscreens that contain certain chemicals? We recently invited Mary Katherine out to our affiliated Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park to teach guests about her ReefLove project, something she created for her Girl Scout Gold Award. ReefLove is an initiative that spreads awareness about coral bleaching. One way coral bleaching happens is when sunscreen chemicals wash off of people, land on coral reefs, and kills them.

“It’s a huge problem, but we can actively do something about sunscreen coral bleaching,” said Futrell. “The fact that you can cover yourself up with special sun-protective clothing, or use reef-safe sunscreens and help protect coral reefs is amazing. We can easily make a difference.”

Her website,, shares more about the solutions to coral bleaching, and about how we can protect the reefs at the same time we protect ourselves.

Zoo Education Supervisor Tonya McDaniel said she’s proud of seeing a former Zoo camper grow up and make a platform to help protect species. Tonya believes any camp member can become inspired and help evoke change.

“From our Zoo Corps teens initiating a cell phone recycling program to save gorillas, families recording frog sightings and calls for citizen science projects, to an educational activity like what Mary Katherine developed, the possibilities are endless to inspire change with everyone we interact with in education,” said McDaniel.

To meet Futrell, hear more of her story and learn about ReefLove, come out to our Safari Nights concert series this spring and summer. She’ll be there to present her project and answer your questions. Check out for more information about the 2018 Safari Nights concert series coming soon.


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Wild Earth Action Team: Protecting a tiny bird’s big habitat

What’s black, white and red all over? No, not a penguin with a sunburn. Try again. It’s the red-cockaded woodpecker! (The red part is actually just a small stripe on its head). Sadly, though, these little guys are nearly extinct.

But our Wild Earth Action Team (WEAT) is ensuring these birds keep pecking away for a long time. The team just wrapped their third annual trip to the Big Thicket National Preserve where they planted longleaf pines to help restore habitat for this endangered bird and other species.

For the red-cockaded woodpeckers to survive, they need to be able to safely nest – and they rely on longleaf pine forests to do that. So we’ve gotten to work, and over the past few years, the Dallas Zoo and a team of volunteers have planted more than 30,000 longleaf pines to reforest 300 acres for habitat.

“We’re thankful to all our volunteers, including the Dallas Zoo, who have played a vital role in the reforestation efforts in the Preserve,” said Jason Ginder, Park Ranger at Big Thicket National Preserve. “Re-establishing an ecosystem based on native plant communities is vital to a healthy forest. Longleaf pine trees thrive in the Southeast Texas climate, and make it ideal habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.”

We couldn’t make these expeditions happen without our rock star community joining us to protect Texas wildlife.

“Getting the chance to go on this expedition was probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been able to do,” said Jon V., Dallas Zoo Conservation Guide. “It felt so amazing to participate in the active conservation process and to help restore the habitat of the endangered woodpecker, so that hopefully one day, it will be taken off the endangered species list.”

We rely on people like you to help us reach our conservation goals. One of our most ambitious goals this year is to remove ten tons of litter pollution from wildlife habitats. Help us reach this by pledging to pick up just ten pieces of litter every Tuesday. It’s that simple! Learn about the Ten on Tuesday campaign here. You can also join us on one of our Wild Earth Action Team expeditions! We head to Corpus Christi March 2-4 to restore habitat for the endangered whooping crane, plus, we’re doing a ton of cool activities. Learn more about the trip!

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Plastic water bottles and plastic bags go extinct at the Dallas Zoo

The Dallas Zoo is leaving the plastic bag and water bottle behind. In lieu of plastic, guests are encouraged to purchase canned water at all concession stands and restaurants, and use reusable bags for any Zoofari Market gift shop purchases.

Our sustainable approach means more than 113,000 plastic water bottles and 95,000 plastic bags will be saved from entering landfills and the environment each year. It’s estimated that plastic pollution kills 1.5 million marine animals annually, including one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals, like dolphins, manatees, and seals.

“A plastic bag or bottle blowing around Dallas could very well end up in the ocean. All creeks in Dallas flow into the Trinity River, and some 700 miles later into the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ben Jones, Dean of Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy. “The Dallas Zoo is strongly committed to creating a better world for animals but it takes all of us to effect change. By reducing our use of plastics, we hope to inspire guests to make easy, positive changes at home, too, to save wildlife.”

The move to cut plastics comes with much-needed support from our food, beverage and retail partner, Service Systems Associates, Inc.

“Service Systems Associates shares a mutual vision with the Dallas Zoo to protect wildlife and wild places, and one major way we can contribute is through the reduction of single use plastics,” said Brett Taylor, Service Systems Associates, Inc. General Manager for the Dallas Zoo. “Only 10 percent of plastic bottles are recycled when compared to 50 percent of cans. Aluminum is able to be recycled over and over again. We’re excited to see how our guests respond to the notion of canned water.”

In 2017, the Dallas Zoo hit a recycling record with 101 tons of materials recycled, including 34 tons of metal; 27 tons of paperboard; 28 tons of co-mingled recycling, like plastic bottles and aluminum cans; 656 wood pallets; as well as, cell phones, electronics, printer cartridges, plastic bags and Styrofoam.

The zoo has 60 recycling bins scattered across the 106-acre park for guests to use. We also encourage guests who shop in the Zoofari Market gift shop to bring their own reusable bag, or buy a reusable bag from the gift shop, or simply decline the use of a bag.


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A teacher’s perspective: Working on Dallas Zoo’s Texas horned lizard project

A teacher measures the size of a wild Texas horned lizard for Dallas Zoo’s population research.

Dallas Zoo’s reptile keepers recently ended their eighth year studying the life history of Texas horned lizards on the 4,700-acre Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Fisher County, Texas. By collecting lizard life history data, we hope to shed valuable light on the ecology of this threatened native Texan that is now in decline throughout much of its range. Earlier this year, Dallas-area teachers joined us for our first-ever Texas Horned Lizard Teachers Expedition. Teacher Cara Kailukaitis shares her story on ZooHoo! 

Reptile Supervisor Bradley Lawrence inserts a tag (similar to a pet microchip) into a lizard.

This summer, I had the pleasure of attending the first-ever Texas Horned Lizard Teachers Expedition offered through the Dallas Zoo. When I saw this on the website, I knew I had to attend. Twenty years ago I

did my high school senior research report on these amazing creatures. Finally being able to study these tough little lizards up close and handle them was very fulfilling.

I have always loved nature and as an informal educator I’ve tried to pass this along to homeschoolers. Working with young children is very rewarding and they often bring a smile to my face. But getting a chance to do actual field work with other professionals and teachers was a great change of pace.

Throughout the expedition weekend, I was able to do transect field studies, examine scat and tracks, and help find and take measurements on the Texas horned lizards. What the schedule failed to mention was

The research team, including Cara pictured third from right.

that we would be diving out of four wheelers and grabbing horned lizards as they tried to scurry away. It felt like I was living an episode of The Crocodile Hunter. All that was missing is the guy yelling “crikey!”

While I went to learn about the Texas horned lizard, I also had the opportunity to meet with the interns at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch where the field trip was conducted. They shared a wealth of knowledge about not only the quail but other flora and fauna in the area.  Seeing their efforts put the techniques we were learning about, like transect studies, into perspective. Rather than being just an idea in a book, these techniques were brought to life in front of us. Their efforts to protect the quail have the added benefit of helping the lizards, as well.

All fun aside, I want everyone to know how important it is to reconnect with nature and preserve our environment. The ranch is an oasis in the middle of oil rigs and empty cotton fields. With 94-percent of Texas land in private ownership, it is doubly important that such places exist. Without this space, Texas horned lizards, quail, and many other indigenous species would be homeless.  While at the ranch I could envision the bison that once roamed across this land and wonder what animals will still be here in 50 years. I would love for everyone to make time for an opportunity like this to see just how interconnected we all are.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity the Dallas Zoo gave me to participate in this event and can’t wait for another field trip! A huge thank you to Colin Johnson with Dallas Zoo Education team; reptile keeper Shana Fredlake; and reptile supervisor Bradley Lawrence for making this trip possible, and the staff at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch for all that you do to help protect this environment for future generations.

*If you’d like to be part of an Educator Workshop, check out all of our upcoming programs.

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

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