Conservation

FIELD NOTES PART II: Saving our state reptile

Reptile Supervisor Bradley Lawrence guest-blogs on ZooHoo!


A Texas horned lizard spotted at RPQR last weekend.

This guest-blog is part of a series. Click here to read Part I!

Springtime is never boring on the rolling plains of Texas. Our latest expedition to the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in search of Texas horned lizards (aka “horny toads”) started a little rough. We arrived just in time to get an hour or so of searching in before we were forced to call it quits for the evening due to weather. The storms were severe enough to produce baseball-size hail and at last one tornado within 5 miles of us. We spent a little time in the much appreciated storm shelter.

The next morning was very wet, windy and a little cold – not a good combination for finding Texas horned lizards, but the afternoon finally warmed up, and the day turned out to be very nice. We’ve found that when conditions are sub-optimal, we tend to see only young lizards and old lizards that are thin, injured or less than prime specimens. My personal feeling is that the adult animals that are in good condition simply wait bad days out until a better one comes along. They can afford not to feed for a few days or even weeks at a time.

We release the lizards in the same spot we found them.

When we catch a lizard, we immediately start to log a GPS location. While this is happening, we measure the total length of the animal, weigh them, and record the surface temperature and UV index at the point where we initially spotted the lizard. A small electronic “chip” is placed in the lizard so we can track home range, growth, and population density. These and some other observations are all recorded in a handheld computer/GPS.  This whole process takes about 5 min. Then the lizard is released, no worse for wear, right where it was found.

Our lizard sightings are getting more frequent as spring turns into summer – these little lizards are doing very well here. We even found our first gravid (that means pregnant or egg-carrying in reptile-speak) lizard of the season. We love to see reproduction in the wild! A large female is able to lay 40+ eggs at a time. We will start to see this year’s hatchlings toward the end of July and into August.

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Dallas Zoo helps release flamingo chicks back into the wild after life-saving emergency rescue in South Africa earlier this year

49 lesser flamingo chicks were released back into the wild in South Africa earlier this week!

In January, the Dallas Zoo was part of an unprecedented rescue effort after 1,800 lesser flamingo chicks were abandoned at their nesting grounds due to severe drought. But the work was far from over. Animal care professionals have worked tirelessly over the past four months to nurse the chicks back to health, and this week the Dallas Zoo helped lead a team in Kimberley, South Africa in the release of 49 of those chicks back into the wild. The rescue, rehabilitation, and release of these birds has never been done before, until now.

The drought affected Kamfers Dam in Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, causing adult flamingos to abandon their nests, leaving thousands of eggs and chicks behind. With only four breeding colonies of lesser flamingos in Africa and one other in India, Kamfers Dam is one of the most important breeding locations for this species in the world.  

The Dallas Zoo led the effort to funnel emergency funding to South Africa in coordination with the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA), sending more than $52,000 from U.S. zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). In addition, AZA-accredited institutions sent 53 of their top U.S. animal care experts and vet teams to help in the mission. The Dallas Zoo contributed $18,500, sent ten of its staffers, and funded the trips for five additional experts to lend their support. Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation, is there now to assist in the release.

“We’re feeling intense relief right now knowing a release of this magnitude has never been done before,” said Edell. “It was a massive undertaking to rescue these flamingos, get them healthy, prepare them to reenter the wild, and then watch them go. The zoo community really stepped up to make this happen and help keep these birds alive.”

The 49 birds were the first group to be released back into Kamfers Dam after they were deemed the most fit for the initial release. Animal caretakers have worked around-the-clock to keep the hundreds of birds alive.

“It’s been a delicate balance – since January, we’ve worked hands-on with the chicks to keep them fed and healthy, but as they’ve grown, we needed to be hands off to ensure they did not imprint on us. We needed to know that they were not interested in people, and only birds, before they were cleared for release,” said Edell.

Each bird also went through a physical health exam, and was given a leg band and microchip before the release. A few chicks will remain in human care, including one that is blind and a few with wing injuries. Those not fit for survival in the wild will become ambassadors of their species at PAAZA-accredited zoos.

Hundreds more flamingo chicks are set to be released in the coming weeks.

“It’s been incredible to release our first flock and see them walk toward the other 20,000 wild adult flamingos at Kamfers Dam, and just fit right in. We hope they continue to thrive,” said Edell.

More AZA experts will travel to South Africa to see the final releases through, and U.S. officials will continue to be a sounding board on the project to ensure future success for all of the birds.

Lesser flamingos are currently listed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Species (IUCN), primarily due to habitat destruction and climate change. It is the smallest species of the six species of flamingos in the world. They’re found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and some parts of India.

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FIELD NOTES PART I: Saving our state reptile

Reptile Supervisor Bradley Lawrence guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

Dallas Zoo reptile team members went out into the field last weekend to check in on the Texas horned lizard population.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (like our state reptile was during the winter months), you know how much we love Texas horned lizards here at the Dallas Zoo. Last weekend we began our 10th year of studying “horny toads” at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Fisher Co, Texas.

The population in this area of Texas is very healthy, and we have been monitoring them for 9 years now. We are gathering as much data as we can to help us learn what makes a habitat like this so good for horned lizards. We hope to use what we learn to help conserve these fabulous reptiles both in the wild and in our care here at the Dallas Zoo.

Over the next several months, we’ll be providing up-to-date notes from the field to give y’all a first-hand look at what we do. I hope that you will learn more about the Texas horned lizard as well as how they fit into the bigger ecological picture here in Texas.

The team worked against the unpredictable spring weather. Check out that lightning!

The RPQRR is a 4700-acre ranch about 4 hours west of Dallas. Along with horned lizards, we get to experience a rare glimpse of wild Texas that is more and more difficult to find these days.

We start our lizard season in late April or early May, giving them a chance to wake up from their roughly 5 month hibernation. Once they’re awake they start looking for much needed food and also start to think about finding a mate.

We had a very productive first outing. We saw several very healthy looking horned lizards, even though we fought Mother Nature a bit. Spring weather in the rolling plains of Texas can be unpredictable and a little scary.

Stay tuned! We’ll give you more in a couple of weeks.

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Creating a better world for turtles

Conservation Interpreter Grayson P. guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

An endangered black-breasted leaf turtle at the Herpetarium.

With a family tree that began 300 million years ago, turtles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs. There are 356 species of turtles, and they play an essential role in maintaining our environment. Freshwater turtles keep our lakes and rivers healthy by controlling aquatic vegetation; tortoises shape habitats for animals and plants by grazing; and sea turtles’ infertile eggs fertilize coastal dunes. However, while turtles have survived multiple mass extinctions, they are facing threats like never before, and as many as one-third of turtles could be extinct in the next twenty years. The Dallas Zoo is determined to change that.  

This April, we are highlighting endangered turtles and how we can protect them through everyday actions as part of our Protecting the 12 conservation plan, and we hope you’ll join us. The Dallas Zoo has a long history of protecting turtles. We take a two-pronged approach: protecting endangered turtles in the wild and breeding them in human care. We provide funding to many turtle conservation organizations, including the Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina, home to breeding populations of thirty turtle species at the brink of extinction. And in turtle biodiversity hotspots such as Madagascar, Myanmar, and India, we facilitate boots-on-the-ground field research and conservation to protect these reptiles.

With our conservation partner, the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), the Dallas Zoo is ensuring no species of turtle becomes extinct in the 21st century. One of the most significant threats facing turtles is the illegal wildlife trade. In April 2018, over 10,000 endangered radiated tortoises were found in a poacher’s house in Toliara, Madagascar without access to food or water. It is believed the animals were collected for the illegal pet trade. The TSA led an unprecedented rescue mission to get these animals safe and healthy. Along with other AZA-accredited institutions, the Dallas Zoo sent emergency funds, supplies, and reptile specialists to Madagascar. Our team spent weeks soaking the surviving turtles to give them water and keep them alive. Because of this collaboration, the majority of the turtles lived and were able to be returned to the wild.   

In addition to the illegal pet trade, one of the biggest threats to turtles is plastic pollution. Every day, 8 million pieces of plastic flow through rivers, creeks, and other waterways, and end up into the ocean, threatening sea turtles who mistake it for jellyfish. As part of our movement to protect turtles, we are asking Zoo guests to make a pledge to pick up ten pieces of plastic pollution every Tuesday to keep the land and waters that turtles call home clean and safe. We hope this pledge is just a starting point and inspires our guests to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use in order to protect turtles and other species.  

When you think of conservationists, you might picture biologists in the field. Here at the Dallas Zoo, we see our guests as conservation heroes because protecting our planet and the animals that call it home is a collaborative effort and everyone’s responsibility.

By picking up plastic pollution, making sure our reptile pets are from reputable breeders, and supporting the Turtle Survival Alliance, we can help protect turtles from extinction. We can’t do it alone and will need everyone’s help to save these magnificent animals which are essential to the wellbeing of our environment. Visit our turtle conservation station at the Galapagos tortoise habitat in ZooNorth through the end of the month to learn more about how you can help, and join us in creating a better world for turtles.

Categories: Conservation, Reptiles and Amphibians | 1 Comment

Update from the field: Emergency flamingo chick rescue mission

Senior Zoologist Dana I. and Assistant Bird Supervisor Nathan C. guest blog on ZooHoo!

Dana hand-feeds one of the flamingo chicks.

We arrived in Kimberley, South Africa on Tuesday, March 12, after a long journey from Dallas. We were greeted by our fellow AZA colleague, who’s been taking care of the flamingo chicks for the last few weeks. We were immediately taken to the Kimberley SPCA, where the chicks are being cared for, to jump in and quickly learn the ropes. The SPCA has the youngest of the 1,800 chicks rescued from the Kamfers Dam. All of the chicks are doing well!

The first group of older chicks were brought in from the initial rescue. This group is already feeding themselves and, because of the specially formulated food they’ve been eating, they are starting to turn a bright pink/red a little bit earlier than normal. We are continuing to weigh these chicks every few days to make sure that they are continuing to gain weight and are staying healthy.

Nathan weighs a flamingo chick.

The second set of chicks came from a later trip to the Kamfers Dam. After the initial rescue, dogs disturbed the flamingo colony remaining at the dam and caused more flamingos to abandon their nests. Volunteers went in and collected the abandoned eggs, and now there is a group of 18 chicks. These chicks are still being hand-fed three times a day at 8 a.m., 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Every morning the chicks are weighed so we can determine how much food to feed them for the day. We also make sure the little chicks get plenty of time outside for some all-important sunshine and exercise.

On Thursday we got a chance to go out to Kamfers Dam and see the flamingos that are still there. There is still a large colony of adults raising an estimated 5,000 chicks. They are being monitored but continue to do well.

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