Conservation

 
 

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.

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

IT’S A GIRL! Zoo names baby gorilla after influential Congolese gorilla caretaker

We are proud to share that our first critically endangered gorilla born in 20 years is a female named Saambili (sam-BEE-lee). Born on June 25, 2018, to second-time mom Hope and first-time dad Subira, Saambili is named after a female gorilla caretaker, Aldegonde Saambili, who works for Dallas Zoo’s conservation partner, GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center), in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

GRACE is the only facility in the world dedicated to the rehabilitative care for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas. Infant gorillas come to GRACE after being confiscated from poachers or illegal pet traders. Aldegonde Saambili is one of GRACE’s most experienced caretakers; she specializes in helping infants heal so they have a chance at normal social, emotional, behavioral and physical development. She works 24-hour shifts, caring for the infants’ every need, including holding, carrying, feeding, exercising and playing with the young gorillas. She also walks her charges into the forest every day where the gorillas can re-familiarize themselves with their natural habitat. Aldegonde stays with the infants through the night, just as their gorilla mother would.

A close up of gorilla Saambili on mom Hope’s chest.

Keith Zdrojewski, Dallas Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Carnivores, is heavily involved in GRACE’s work with orphaned gorillas, helping the organization open a one-of-a-kind forest enclosure in the Congo for its gorillas in 2015. Zdrojewski also serves on GRACE’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group.

“It’s taken the Dallas Zoo 20 years to welcome a baby gorilla and we wanted her name to have real meaning,” said Zdrojewski. “GRACE is so close to my heart; the caretakers there are some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. With many women in the Congo facing issues of inequality, high rates of violence, and poverty, I’m proud to honor Aldegonde Saambili with the recognition she deserves as a remarkable female conservationist in a very conflicted country.”

“Thank you very much for this acknowledgement to us caregivers at GRACE. I promise to continue faithfully with my job of caring for baby gorillas all my life,” said Aldegonde Saambili. “I also wish a long life of happiness to Saambili, the baby gorilla, and my namesake at the Dallas Zoo.”

Dallas Zoo’s animal care team estimates gorilla Saambili was born weighing around five healthy pounds. Twenty-two-year-old mom Hope quietly delivered the infant in the gorilla barn after laboring for just over an hour. Saambili is gripping firmly onto mom’s chest, just as she should, and nurses often. In roughly five months, the baby will graduate from being cradled on mom’s belly, to riding on her back when she can easily hold her head up and grip even tighter.

Due to habitat destruction, poaching for bush meat, animal trafficking, and disease, gorillas have never been under greater threat in the wild. It’s estimated there are approximately 350,000 western lowland gorillas, the subspecies the Dallas Zoo cares for, left in Africa. There are roughly 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas, 880 mountain gorillas, and 300 Cross River gorillas remaining in the wild.

“GRACE is fortunate to have the Dallas Zoo as a long-term partner supporting our work with rescued Grauer’s gorillas. The zoo has played a key role in the success of our sanctuary by serving as animal care advisers and sending expert staff to the Congo to help with capacity building,” said Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg, GRACE Executive Director. “We feel extremely honored that they chose to name their new gorilla after one of our caregivers. It’s a beautiful way to recognize the hard work and dedication of our Congo team and is a tribute to the zoo’s commitment to our partnership and helping gorillas in the wild.”

Hope and Saambili are making early morning appearances in the habitat, weather permitting. Guests are encouraged to have patience when visiting as their time in the habitat will be determined by Hope’s comfort level and the Texas heat.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Gorilla | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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