Conservation

Dallas Zoo welcomes first-ever rare Somali wild ass babies

 

For the first time in Dallas Zoo’s 129-year history, we’re proudly welcoming two extremely rare Somali wild ass foals. Born 10 days apart, the little girls and their moms are doing great and bonding beautifully behind-the-scenes.

The first foal named Kalila, meaning “dearly loved” in Arabic, was born July 9 to 13-year-old mom Liberty. This is dad Abai and Liberty’s third foal together – the pair previously welcomed two babies at their former home, the St. Louis Zoo.

One-week-old Naima explores her behind-the-scenes habitat.

The second foal named Naima, meaning “calm” in Arabic, was born July 19 to dad Abai, and first-time mom Hani, who turns five years old next month. And just like her older half-sister, Naima was standing, walking and nursing within minutes.

“This is a big moment for our hoofstock team. Somali wild asses are critically endangered with less than 600 left in the wild,” mammal curator John Fried said. “Only nine institutions in the U.S. care for this rare species, and to be able to welcome two babies is truly one of the highlights of my career.”

Native to the arid regions of the Horn of Africa – Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea – there are many reasons the Somali wild asses’ numbers have dropped drastically in the wild. Locals hunt this species for food and traditional medicine – some believe their fat treats tuberculosis. Somali wild asses also directly compete with livestock for limited land and water sources. Plus, wild asses are crossbreeding with domestic asses, hurting the genetics of this species.

With unique zebra-striped legs, a soft gray upper body, a white belly, and a spikey black-and-gray mane, Somali wild asses are the smallest of the wild equids (horses, asses, and zebras). Standing about four feet at the shoulder and weighing roughly 600 pounds, these animals also have the smallest hooves of any equid, which help them navigate rocky slopes.

The Dallas Zoo is working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Somali Wild Ass Species Survival Plan (SSP) to increase their numbers in human care and keep the North American gene pool genetically sound. In 2005, father Abai arrived from the Basel Zoo in Switzerland to bring a new bloodline to the U.S. Since then, he’s sired multiple foals.

Kalila nurses behind-the-scenes from mom Liberty.

“These little girls have brought so much excitement to our hoofstock barn,” mammal supervisor Christine Rickel said. “Although they were born 10 days apart, they look vastly different. We joke that Liberty has super milk because Kalila’s already a big girl. She was born weighing 65 pounds – 14 pounds heavier than Naima.”

Liberty, Hani and their foals were introduced to each other last week behind-the-scenes, but the protective mothers are hesitant to allow the little ones to play together, who just want to run in circles to their hearts’ content.

The babies will soon venture into the arid habitat off the Wilds of Africa Adventure Safari monorail. And, in time, they’ll meet the gemsbok, addax and ostriches, with whom they’ll eventually share the habitat.

Stay tuned for more updates as these precious girls continue to grow.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Monorail Safari | Tags: | Leave a comment

Save the vaquita: Near extinct porpoise needs help fast

Dallas Zoo’s conservation intern Heaven Tharp guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

The vaquita porpoise is the world’s most endangered marine mammal — there’s fewer than 30 left. But I bet you didn’t know that.

The Dallas Zoo, along with AZA SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction), is supporting a heroic $1 million emergency rescue plan to save the vaquita. This weekend, July 14-16, we’re raising awareness and money with a Save the Vaquita Weekend Beach Party.

The vaquita is the ocean’s smallest cetacean, only reaching up to 5 feet in length and weighing about 120 pounds. That’s about as big as an average 13-year-old boy. They’re best known for the unique black ring around each eye, and black curved lips that are often described as a smile. Vaquitas have the most restricted range of any marine mammal — they’re only found in the northern Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez.

Photo of a vaquita caught in a gillnet by NOAA Fisheries West Coast

This small porpoise wasn’t discovered until 1958, and sadly, a half century later, it’s on the verge of extinction. Vaquitas are continuously caught in the cross fires of fishermen fishing for totoaba; it’s a critically endangered fish that’s in high demand across China because their swim bladder is considered a delicacy. For vaquitas, the biggest problem is the fishing gear itself. Gillnets cause accidental trapping, and it’s leading to their demise. Just last month, Mexico placed a permanent ban on the use of gillnets in the northern Gulf of California. Unfortunately, illegal fishing with these nets is still a huge problem.

This weekend, we invite you to join us in taking immediate action to save the remaining 30 vaquitas. Spearheaded by a committee of interns and volunteers passionate about this species, Dallas Zoo’s Save the Vaquita Beach Party kicks off Friday, July 14, on Cat Green. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day (with extended hours until 8 p.m. during Saturday’s final Safari Nights concert) we’ll have children’s beach games, a bounce house, and face-painting on Cat Green in ZooNorth. The party and games are free with Zoo admission (bounce house and face painting are $5 each). And donations to Vaquita SAFE are appreciated!

Also, visit the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo Discovery House and write a note of encouragement to the vaquita conservation heroes on the front lines. We’ll be sure to mail it to them!

You can also purchase a specially designed “Save the Vaquita” t-shirt ($15), stickers ($2), or a limited-edition wristband ($5). A $20 donation gets you all three! There will also be unique handmade vaquita-themed merchandise for sale, and we’ll all have a lot of beach party fun.

You can also help the vaquita by:

  • Choosing to buy sustainable seafood.
  • Spreading the word: tell five people about why the vaquita needs our help!
  • Donating to the Dallas Zoo’s “Save the Vaquita” effort. We’ll send all money raised directly to Vaquita SAFE to save this marine mammal from extinction.

We look forward to seeing you — let’s party #4aPorpoise!

Categories: Conservation, Education, Events, Volunteers | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo partners with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to foster change in Rwanda

Every morning, more than 100 trackers set out from the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda to protect nearly half of the nation’s mountain gorilla population. The trackers monitor the gorillas round-the-clock, serving as the first line of defense against poachers. Each individual tracker is assigned a gorilla group; it is their job to locate group members and record data used to study the species. This continued daily commitment is what it takes to ensure the survival of critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Dallas Zoo based Fossey Fund board members at headquarters in Rwanda with Tara Stoinski

The Dallas Zoo and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International are in this battle together, pledging resources, time, and efforts toward gorilla conservation. Established in 1978, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has dedicated nearly 50 years to protecting mountain gorilla populations. As a result, mountain gorillas are the only species of ape whose numbers are slowly increasing; how ever, with less than 900 individuals remaining, this species is still critically endangered. And at the Dallas Zoo, we’re honored to support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as one of our conservation partners.

In January, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund President and CEO/Chief Science Officer Tara Stoinski spoke during a Dallas Zoo Wild Earth Conservation Lecture held at the Angelika Film Center here in Dallas. In addition, she gave an inspiring talk for Dallas Zoo keepers and staff about the Fund’s latest developments and updates on the animals they protect. But the story doesn’t stop there.

Gregg Hudson, president and CEO of the Dallas Zoo, currently is the immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, in which he’s been a member since 2007. In celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary, he and the rest of the board of trustees traveled to Rwanda in late February to meet the partners of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund who are working in the wild. This group also included two of the Fossey Funds newest Trustees – Dallas Zoo board member Diane Brierley and the Zoo’s Special Counsel Bill Evans.

Tara Stoinski speaks to staff at the Dallas Zoo

“It’s amazing to take what we do at zoos, our special talents, and apply them to other meaningful organizations. Zoos are a conduit from our communities to these important, large-scale projects. We have a responsibility to go beyond our gates and be involved in wildlife initiatives outside of the Zoo,” explained Hudson.

Once in the heart of the Virunga Mountains, the trustees embarked on treks through the Rwandan bush to see both gorillas and golden monkeys.

This amazing experience also highlighted the Fund’s numerous health, education, and economic development initiatives, which encourage Africans to become conservation leaders. The trustees visited community education and health projects in Bisate Village and spent a gratifying afternoon with the Karisoke trackers.

Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregg Hudson hikes through the African bush to see gorillas

“I am just blown away by what the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund does. It’s one of the longest, continuous field projects in the world. On top of that, it’s connected to this incredible community in Rwanda where they have helped build a health clinic and create educational programs at local schools. Gorillas are fascinating animals, but the impact of the Fossey Fund on the community is incredible, too,” Hudson said.

The trip culminated with a reception at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Erica J. Barks-Ruggles, an eminent supporter of gorilla conservation, fostering hope for the future of a troubled species.

Hudson’s trip emphasizes the importance of partnerships like those between the Zoo and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as they bring together conservationists from around the world to collectively further research and prevent species extinction.

“The Rwandan people see gorillas as part of what makes their nation special. I feel a lot of personal pride for helping with each new sustainable, long-term initiative. It’s a rare and fulfilling chance to create a legacy project that will help gorillas in the future,” Hudson stated.

Learn more about how you can support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s conservation efforts by symbolically adopting a gorilla.

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

Capturing the Photo Ark: A behind the scenes look at wildlife photography

Joel Sartore photographs Anita, Mara, and Nande, three Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) females at the Dallas Zoo.

Ever photographed a 12,000-pound African elephant or an Orinoco crocodile with 68 teeth? It’s not as easy as it sounds, if it sounds easy at all. These are just a few of the common problems faced by photographer Joel Sartore as he captured more than 6,000 images of wildlife for the National Geographic Photo Ark exhibition.

Assistant Supervisor of Reptiles and Amphibians Matt Vaughan helps set up a shoot with a red spitting cobra (Naja pallida).

Sartore’s goal is to photograph every species currently in human care — that’s more than 12,000 different species. For many of the animals featured in Sartore’s portraits, time is running out. An alarming number of these species are already classified as endangered and face the possibility of extinction. Through the captivating images of the Photo Ark, Sartore hopes to inspire people to help protect these animals and #SaveTogether before it’s too late.

The Dallas Zoo is presently one of only three zoos in the nation to showcase the Photo Ark. The exhibition, which can be found throughout the Zoo, boasts more than 80 images of Joel’s most compelling work — many of which feature our very own Dallas Zoo animals. But capturing these portraits involved much more than a couple of quick flashes of the camera. Cathy Burkey, Dallas Zoo’s staff photographer, served as Sartore’s production and photo assistant, as well as a Zoo ambassador during the project.

Burkey and Sartore first began working together in the winter of 2014. Yet, with more than 15 years of experience as the Zoo’s eyes, Burkey knew that no two shoots would likely be the same.

A herd of impala (Aepyceros melampus) stand together, leery of the black photo background used by Sartore.

“Being with Joel was a treat since he’s a National Geographic photographer. I watched and learned how he approached photographing Zoo animals—his techniques were foolproof. He respected the keepers’ direction and never went beyond what they were allowing him to do. I don’t think there’s such a thing as an ‘average’ shoot. Every animal has its own personality, therefore, each animal was approached as an individual and with the utmost respect,” said Burkey.

Burkey recalled a particularly interesting shoot involving Dara, an older female yellow-backed duiker. Duikers are a type of forest-dwelling antelope threatened by deforestation and hunting. The word duiker means “diver” in South African Dutch, referring to the species’ habit of plunging through bushes when pursued.

“We never dreamed that Dara would dive over Joel’s head as he was squatted with his camera taking photos, but she did!” said Burkey.

A Texas giant walkingstick (Megaphasma dentricus) crawls along a keeper’s arm.

It’s almost always guaranteed to be an interesting day at the office if you’re photographing wildlife. Burkey noted that animal cooperation during the project tended to vary by species, meaning that some shoots were more involved than others.

“The most cooperative animals were the birds. Joel had a wonderful light-weight box covered with sail cloth that the birds would sit inside. It worked like a charm! But the most difficult were the impala. They can jump 10 feet straight in the air if they’re startled, so we were very cautious about the number of people present while Joel photographed them. It was a tricky shoot,” Burkey explained.

Guests can enjoy the Photo Ark as part of their general admission ticket through Sept. 4, thanks to supporting sponsorship from the Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District and underwriting support from Karen and Phil Drayer and Ruth O Mutch.

Categories: Conservation | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Meet our world renowned okapi herd

For the past 50 years, we’ve been working with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) to substantially increase the population of these endangered “African unicorns” in human care. Nearly 75 percent of all okapi in the SSP are related to Dallas Zoo offspring, and in our history we’ve welcomed 36 calves!

Though they’ve been off exhibit during the construction of the Simmons Hippo Outpost, you can now view these solitary creatures in two different yards. Learn about our six okapi and how to tell who’s who!

Kwanini

Kwanini is a dedicated and attentive mother who was born at the Dallas Zoo when the Wilds of Africa originally opened. Nearly 27 years old, she’s given birth to 7 calves, including Ikenge, a son who still lives here.

Although shy around other adult herd members, Kwanini is a caring, maternal figure. She enjoys interacting with calves and grooming them (and occasionally keepers) with her rough tongue.

You can recognize Kwanini by her deep chocolate coloring and very defined brows.

Kwanini (pictured left) with son Ikenge

Niko

Niko was born at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida and arrived in 2000 at the age of three as a breeding male. His father was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, making his genetics extremely valuable to the SSP. Since 2001, he’s fathered 7 calves.

Known as the friendliest okapi ever encountered by our keepers, he’ll seek out the company of keepers and happily approach strangers for a head rub, which is atypical for this solitary species. In fact, Niko’s developed an interesting habit of bobbing his head at other animals and staff to get their attention.

Niko is tall, dark, and handsome. He’s especially recognizable by his ossicones, which are only about 2 inches long because he likes rubbing them on trees and branches.

Niko

Desi

Desi was born at Dallas Zoo in 1999, and is now almost 18 years old. She is currently our primary breeding female, and has birthed two calves. As the herd’s dominant, leading lady, the other okapi will submit to her—even the males! She is very comfortable and confident around keepers, and enjoys a good neck or ear rub.

Desi learns very quickly and has been known to playfully test new staff members by not shifting (moving to a new space when asked) unless she is offered a treat. Though strong-willed, she’s a sweet girl.

Look for Desi’s mahogany face and fuzzy fringe around her ears.

Desi

Uche

Uche is 6 years old and will begin introductions with females this summer as an up-and-coming breeding male. Born at San Diego Safari Park, he came to Dallas 3 years ago as Desi’s mate. He is often shy around female okapi, though enjoys saying howdy to them through stall windows.

Upon first meeting, Uche appears aloof, but warms up quickly to familiar faces. When he first arrived, he was not fond of touching or direct feeding, but our keepers have earned his trust, and he now willfully approaches them to have his ears and ossicones scratched. He’s a quick learner with training, too.

You’ll notice Uche’s very light face and thick ossicones. Still a rather young okapi, he is smaller than the other males and females.

Uche

Ikenge

Ikenge was born at Dallas Zoo to mother Kwanini and father Niko. At only five years old, he’s still a little shy, but loving and playful nonetheless. When he isn’t visiting mom through the stalls, you’ll find him energetically running around the habitat.

This little calf is very trusting and will follow keepers into new areas without hesitation. He appreciates being groomed by other okapi and his keepers, and enjoys training sessions and time out on exhibit.

Although he is short, Ikenge is very muscular. Look for his dark face and long eyelashes.

Ikenge

Kilua

Kilua is the newest addition to our herd and our youngest. She was born in Cincinnati, but came to become a primary breeding female in the future. But don’t let her age fool you—Kilua is one of the largest okapi our keepers have ever seen.

A gentle giant, she is both brave and friendly. Kilua likes to interact with people, and happily tolerates hoofwork. Though calm, she is still playful at heart and enjoys enrichment items, like her bamboo curtain and puzzle feeder.

Kilua is huge, weighing in at nearly 800 lbs. With her massive frame, you’ll easily be able to identify her.

Kilua

Visit our okapi herd in person, and learn more about this unique species during an okapi keeper chat, occurring daily at 2:15 p.m.

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

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