Conservation

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.

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A major conservation success: Welcoming scimitar-horned oryx calves

 

It’s a success story that proves when accredited zoos and conservation organizations work together, we have the power to bring animals back from extinction in the wild.

While we proudly welcome three new scimitar-horned oryx babies at the Dallas Zoo, these African antelope are finally walking their native desert again for the first time in more than 35 years.

In August 2016, the Sahara Conservation Fund and the governments of Abu Dhabi and Chad, released a small herd of 25 oryx back into Chad with GPS radio collars to keep track of the treasured animals. Thanks to zoos and other private groups, these iconic desert antelope were successfully preserved in human care, allowing a wild bounce back.

Since the initial release, two more groups have joined, and the growing herd has welcomed a few babies, showing signs of a healthy, thriving population.

And AZA-accredited zoos continue to welcome babies through the Scimitar-Horned Oryx Species Survival breeding program. So far this year, 38 calves have been born in U.S. zoos, including our three babies.

We’ve put together some highlights on our new calves who were all born to dad Berm:

  • Our first calf was born Aug. 15 to mom Rime. Named Bahira, meaning “dazzling” in Arabic, she was born weighing 17 pounds and has an extremely protective mother.

    Our calves will grow up to look like their moms pictured here (including our fourth adult female Ouadi). Their stunning, sharp-tipped horns curve all the way over their backs.

  • Our second calf arrived a day later on Aug. 16, weighing 21 pounds. Born to mom Mimolette, she was named Ara, meaning “opinionated” in Arabic, because she was very vocal during her neonatal exam.
  • Our male calf was born Aug. 21 to first-time mom Achima. Keepers gave him a very special name – Moussa, which means “Moses” in Arabic. The name is in honor of John Newby, the CEO of the Sahara Conservation Fund, and a key leader in reintroducing Scimitar-horned oryx back into the wild. In North Africa, the natives there call him Moses.

Our three calves and their moms are doing great! Ara and Bahira have been inseparable since they were introduced. The little girls often play and spar with one another, chase each other around, and snuggle up together when napping.

Since 1988, Dallas Zoo has welcomed 14 scimitar-horned oryx calves. We’re proud to contribute to the survival of this beautiful species in human care, and in the wild. Look for our new little ones soon in the Arid habitat off the Adventure Safari monorail.

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Dallas Zoo smashes attendance record for eighth straight year

 

We did it! We crushed our all-time attendance record for the eighth consecutive year with more than 1.2 MILLION guests visiting in our fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

This now marks the third time we’ve exceeded one million visitors in our 129-year history. A huge thanks goes out to our incredible guests for helping us become one of the best AZA-accredited zoos in the nation.

As we look back on some of our accomplishments over the past year, these ones made us particularly proud:

  • We opened our $14 million Simmons Hippo Outpost.

    Our $3 conservation wristbands brought in more than $45,000 and it goes straight to global wildlife conservation projects!

  • We debuted the eye-catching National Geographic Photo Ark exhibition, featuring photographer Joel Sartore’s stunning images .
  • Safari Nights Powered by Breeze Energy brought in a record-breaking crowd!
  • Plus, we had an EPIC baby boom, welcoming loved ones like lion Bahati, giraffe Tsavo, two Somali wild asses, endangered tortoises, Caribbean flamingos, a tamandua, Southern ground hornbills and many more.
  • We donated more than $347,000 to wildlife conservation efforts across the globe.
    • More than $45,000 was raised through our conservation wristband sales.
    • And nearly $13,500 was collected by our bird show ravens in Wonders of the Wild Presented by Kimberly-Clark.
  • We welcomed 102,807 students through field trips, and 52% were from Title 1 schools.
  • We had 786 teachers participate in Dallas Zoo workshops, earning 4,625 CTE credits.
  • Our Wild Earth Action Team (WEAT) removed 7 tons of litter from Texas waterways to restore habitat for endangered sea turtles and whooping cranes.

    Bird show ravens gladly collect guests’ donation dollars at the end of each Wonders of the Wild show; they’ve gathered nearly $13,500 for conservation.

  • WEAT also planted 10,000 trees in the Big Thicket National Preserve to restore habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
  • WEAT inspired 32,457 guests to make personal pledges for pro-environmental behavior on behalf of animals, like conserving water, using canvas bags and reusable water bottles.

Wild places around the world our need help more than ever, and every visitor we welcome has a part in helping us create a better world for animals everywhere.

 

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Saving endangered gorillas takes all of us

What do you think they’re talking out?

Lower Wilds of Africa zookeeper, Will Bookwalter, guest-blogs on ZooHoo! 

Gorillas have an otherworldly presence, there is just something incredibly special about them – size, majesty, silence that speaks volumes.

The deep chorus of rumbles through a happy troop breaks the hush of an otherwise ominously quiet setting. I sometimes describe it like the moments before a thunderstorm rolls in – there’s a certain force around you that you can’t quite identify and your stomach sinks with anticipation.

Subira is our incredible silver back over our family troop.

Sharing a moment with them is immensely humbling; just a brief second of eye contact is enough to lock you into their world for life and it’s an honor to be there.

The story of gorillas cannot be told without the story of humans. Our lives are intertwined in both the best and worst of ways, but we have the opportunity to effect change and a movement is taking shape across the globe.

A small part of the force that once destroyed habitats and populations has now pivoted to try and save what’s left, those people hope to protect the global treasures that live within the forests of Africa. Many have now learned that the crack of a rifle in the forest is far less valuable than the shutter of a camera. And in that regard, many former poachers have joined the elite corps of rangers who risk their lives everyday to protect the gorillas we have left.

While these brave men and women keep their boots-on-the-ground, standing across the battlefield from poachers, militias, and warlords, each one of us can have our own positive impact on gorilla populations right here at home. We all have the power to create a better world for gorillas.

Staggering numbers 

There are actually four types of gorillas, two species that each have two subspecies. The gorillas we care for

in AZA-accredited zoos are all Western lowland gorillas. In the wild, their population has dropped to 125,000 individuals; they’re classified by the IUCN as critically endangered. The other three subspecies aren’t as lucky. It’s believed there are only 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas left (our partner GRACE is working to save them); Eastern mountain gorillas are struggling with just 880 individuals remaining; and the Cross River gorillas are barely holding on with as few as 100 animals left.

Amani is an orphaned Guarer’s gorilla, living with our partner, the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), in the Congo.

But, wait! There’s good news on the horizon. Not only can we help, we ARE helping!

According to our conservation partner, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, mountain gorilla populations in Bwindi National Forest, Uganda, have actually increased from 302 individuals to no less than 400 between 2006 and 2012. Five years after the last census, we’re still trending upwards.

Gorillas don’t have any true natural predators. From time-to-time they may encounter a leopard interested in a youngster, but the silverback will protect the troop with his 500-pound frame and two-in-a-half inch canine teeth. Unfortunately, the remaining threats to gorillas are all human. In a way, that can be viewed as a positive. You can’t explain conservation to a leopard, but human behavior can be changed, and beliefs and opinions can be swayed with new information.

Gorillas are poached for many reasons, for example, bushmeat is an issue we often encounter. People kill and eat lots of endangered animals, gorillas are certainly included. And while their meat is valuable, bio-facts like hands, feet, and skulls can fetch much more on the black market.

The wildlife trade is a problem born purely out of greed and corruption, and we’re watching animals go extinct before our eyes in the name of trophies and pseudo-science. At the lowest levels of these operations, human lives are destroyed, as well, in order to feed and protect families, while war lords and corrupt politicians enjoy the luxuries that come along with exploitation.

With issues like these, simple conversations go a long way in changing minds. Consumers can sometimes be persuaded to stop purchasing items, like rhino horn and elephant ivory. There are a million different ways we can use our purchasing power to protect these precious habitats. Everyday electronics that we use contain minerals, like gold and coltan, mined in the areas where our gorillas live, and the vicious cycle begins there.

The trade of conflict minerals destroys the lives of humans and animals alike, and most of us have no idea the pain, struggle, and loss that goes into the obtaining the components of a new laptop.

We have proven before the power of the consumer, we are rapidly taking steps to convince companies to use sustainably sourced products across the entire spectrum of
manufacturing. As I mentioned above, each one of us truly does have the power to change the world.

On this historic World Gorilla Day, we hope you will join us at the Dallas Zoo, today through Sept. 26, to support our initiatives to raise $10,000 to protect these incredible gentle giants of the forest. Looking into a gorilla’s eyes, we can all see a reflection of ourselves. We share so much with these amazing animals, it’s time we share some of ourselves with our hallowed cousins. Together, we truly can create a better world for gorillas.

BREAKING NEWS: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering rolling back a rule that helps protect wildlife, like critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, from the effects of illegal mining operations. Tell them NO on conflict mineral amendment in #HR3354. Add your voice HERE. 

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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.

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