Conservation

World Gorilla Day: Celebrating gorillas by celebrating our littlest one

Baby Saambili’s has grown so much since her birth on June 25, 2018!

World Gorilla Day marks the 16th anniversary of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International’s Karisoke Research Center, which is the longest running field site dedicated to gorilla research and conservation.

In honor of this special day, we sat down with Assistant Great Ape Supervisor Tamara Jochem to talk about how much baby Saambili has grown since her birth on June 25, 2018.

Today is not only about celebrating these magnificent animals – we are also reminded of the very serious threats they face in the wild. YOU can make a difference! Read on to get the inside scoop on all things Saambili and learn a few simple actions you can take to help support gorillas conservation efforts everyday.

How much has Saambili grown and changed physically since she was born?
We don’t know exact numbers because she’s with mom 24/7. But she has a lot of extra skin that she’s ready to grow into. She also has a little belly and lots of muscles in her arms and legs. She’s a stout little thing! And her teeth started coming in about a month ago. We think she’s got about six teeth on the bottom and four on the top, so far.

Will she go through teething, like a human baby?
Yep, she will. She’s handling that pretty well, based on our observations. She will chew on her fingers, or anything she can fit in her mouth – lettuce, kale, broccoli – and she might get a bit fussy from time to time.

Hope supports Saambili’s bottom while walking on her knuckles.

Tell us about the relationship between Hope and Saambili.
Gorilla babies are born already able to cling, so she’s been able to hold onto Hope’s hair since the beginning. Hope is a very attentive mother, so most of the time she is either supporting or holding on to her baby. She has started to put Saambili’s bottom in her hand, and Hope will walk around on her knuckles. Within the next month or two, we will probably start seeing Saambili start to ride on Mom’s back. Saambili needs a little more strength and coordination for that because the hair on Hope’s back isn’t as long. And eventually Saambili will start to crawl and move around on her own independently.

When do we think she might start walking?
Right now, she can definitely stand up on her own if she’s holding on to something, so she has the strength in her arms and legs. She wants to crawl, we can tell. But mom is being very cautious and protective. At this point, it’s kind of up to Hope.

What kind of interaction has she had with the other members of her family troop at this point?
When she was first born, Subira (her dad) immediately came over and inspected her. He put his lips on her very gently, and touched her gently. Periodically, he will come over and look at her. As she gets older and becomes more mobile, that’s when she’ll really start interacting with some of the other members. They may “babysit” or play with her. She may jump around on them, essentially using them as a playground. We’re obviously not to that point yet because she’s still so young.

Megan gently inspects baby Saambili.

But the other two females has shown a lot of interest in her. Megan has shown the most interest – she’s the youngest in the group, and she’s grown up in family troops her whole life. For the first few weeks of Saambili’s life, Megan was constantly following Hope around because she wanted to look at the baby. And she would hold Saambili’s hand – she’s been very gentle.

Hope doesn’t mind this?
No, Hope deals with Megan really well. If Megan gets too rough or if the baby needs to sleep, Hope will just move Megan’s hand away or turn her body so Megan can’t see Saambili. Megan is very persistent, so Hope spends a lot of time dealing with that. Luckily, Hope is a very socially-savvy female, so she knows how to handle all of this. Sometimes you’ll see Hope holding Megan’s hand. That’s not necessarily because they’re friends, she’s just saying “stop touching the baby.” What we’re seeing from Megan is a very normal level of interest from a young female, though.

And Shanta is very interested in the baby, too – she’s even cleaned her a few times. With Shanta being the lower-ranking animal in the troop, she isn’t able to spend as much time with the baby – although we think she would like to.

With Subira, it’s really up to him on what role he’ll play. Silverbacks are the protectors of the family, but every silverback is different. A lot times they’re just sort of a jungle-gym. So if they’re napping, the baby might jump onto them from things, hit them, run around, or pull their hair. We suspect Subira will be really tolerant of all those things, which will be oh-so-cute to watch.

What is the biggest threat that Saambili’s wild counterparts face?
Habitat loss and being hunted for bushmeat. Mining and other agricultural and farming activities are taking away food sources and habitat for gorillas in the wild. And then there’s poaching, where snares are often used. Even if they don’t get caught in a snare, gorillas can lose an arm or die from infected wounds. There are actually some troops in the wild that have learned to recognize snares and undo them, which is great.

Baby Saambili is very curious and ready to explore!

How can the general public help protect gorillas?
Be conscious when you’re buying wood or paper products. Make sure you’re buying rain forest-friendly and sustainable products that are made from recycled materials so you’re not contributing to deforestation.

You can also bring your old cell phones, tablets, MP3 players, etc. to the Dallas Zoo, and we’ll recycle them responsibly!

These electronics require the mineral coltan, which is mined in Africa – the natural habitat of critically endangered gorillas and other species. Deforestation and mining associated with coltan production have impacted and displaced gorillas, forcing them dangerously close to extinction. Recycling these devices and extending the life of electronic devices (do you really need a new mobile phone as soon as your contract is up?) reduces the demand for coltan mining. For more information on this initiative and how you can help, click HERE.

Categories: Conservation, Gorilla, Uncategorized | 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

Texans come together to save our state reptile

Although Texas horned lizard populations are increasing thanks to community efforts, there is still work to be done.

Head west on I-20, and in no time, you’ll notice large, red formations of sedimentary rock standing like mountains amid the mostly flat, arid earth and rolling plains. This is Rotan, Texas  – far from the impressive view of Downtown Dallas’ protruding skyscrapers. Here you’ll find many creatures that dominated these parts in the days of the Wild West still making their homes. However, the thousands of snakes, lizards and insects that are all well adapted to survive these harsh conditions, are no longer thriving as in those days not long ago.

Recently, a group of Dallas Zoo staff members, interns and volunteers took the drive to the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch to study one reptile who has made the ranch its home – the native and beloved Texas horned lizard. The facility was established in 2007 for the purpose of enhancing the abundance of the northern bobwhite, a ground-dwelling quail native to the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch preserves 4,720 acres of land to maintain the natural brush cover necessary for quail conservation efforts. This undeveloped land is the ideal setting for the scaly Texas horned lizard. The brush cover provides shelter from predators, which is essential, as their toad-like bodies tend to slow them down.

Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Rotan, Texas

“The area is managed for quail, with shortgrass and tallgrass prairie land, which is also vital to horned lizards and their prey, harvester ants. Horned lizards live in a similar niche as quail and benefit from the preservation of this land, as do many other animals,” Dallas Zoo reptile keeper, Shana Fredlake observes. “This is native habitat for these animals, so keeping it pristine helps this population stay stable and helps us observe their natural behaviors and monitor growth rates.”

Although the horned lizard was their primary focus, the group was also delighted by the company of a few tarantulas and snakes, even stumbling across a rattlesnake; a real treat for Dallas Zoo reptile supervisor, Bradley Lawrence who has a special fondness for the noisy, venomous reptile. Lawrence believes the conservation work being done today has also benefitted other reptile species native to Texas.

“Most folks in Texas will do anything they can to protect, donate and manage land for horned lizards. They don’t know it, but this helps conserve other species that are not looked on as favorably,” Lawrence shares.

Our research team studied Texas horned lizards in hopes of restoring their population.

The community’s willingness to pitch in and help the conservation of the Texas horned lizard is promising, but much work still needs to be done. Despite conservation efforts to reverse the decline of the species, the horned lizard remains state-threatened.

“The Texas horned lizard has disappeared from about 60% of its former range here in Texas due to invasive fire ants, over-collection, and habitat destruction,” Lawrence adds. Despite the numbers, he remains hopeful for the species: “They are charismatic, gentle reptiles, and everyone that sees them falls in love.”

“It makes me happy to see Texas have a state reptile and that people love this reptile,” Fredlake says. “If we can coexist without destroying every part of their habitat, there is a chance to bring them back to all parts of their former range.”

By studying population density, habitat preference, diet, sex ratios, and activity patterns, we’ve developed a greater scientific understanding of our state reptile and how to best contribute to its conservation. For more information about our Texas horned lizard conservation efforts, click here.

Categories: Conservation, Reptiles and Amphibians | Leave a 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

Saving sea turtles on South Padre Island

Conservation and Community Engagement Intern, Kelly A. Catter guest blogs on ZooHoo!

A volunteer with our Wild Earth Action Team clears large debris from the beachside in South Padre Island, Texas.

Our Wild Earth Action Team recently traveled down to South Padre Island with 50 volunteers, interns and staff from the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park to remove litter pollution from beaches and dunes in an effort to restore sea turtle nesting habitats.

Plastic and other litter pollution pose a serious threat to the vulnerable sea turtle population.

In just three hours, our team was able to remove 2,238 pounds of litter pollution. It felt great to actually take action and make a difference for wildlife!

The team then explored the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville and enjoyed eco-tours of Laguna Madre and Sea Turtle, Inc.’s new center, where we met the people responsible for monitoring and protecting sea turtle nests and rehabilitating injured sea turtles.

Unfortunately, we did not see a hatchling release – 108 babies hatched at 2:30 am, too early to view – but we did get to observe a night nest check and saw the baby turtles working their way up to the surface through the sand!

We also learned about ways we can help sea turtles in our everyday lives. By reducing plastic use whenever and wherever we can, we’re preventing it from entering our waterways and ending up in the ocean. Even simple things like using reusable grocery bags and straws, recycling and picking up litter rather than walking passed it go a long way to keep wildlife safe. This conservation trip was a huge success, and we all had a wonderful time doing our part to save sea turtles.

Want to get involved? We challenge everyone to pitch in to save sea turtles by pledging to pick up just 10 pieces of litter pollution every Tuesday. Imagine the impact it would make towards creating a better world for animals all the way to the sea. Click here to find more information about the North Texas TenOnTues pledge initiative and make your pledge today.

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