Reptile Supervisor Bradley Lawrence guest-blogs on ZooHoo!
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 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.
Conservation Interpreter Grayson P. guest-blogs on ZooHoo!
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.
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.
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.
Senior Zoologist Dana I. and Assistant Bird Supervisor Nathan C. guest blog on ZooHoo!
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!
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.
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.
Conservation and Management Intern Alisia Boyd guest-blogs on Zoohoo!
“They say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.“
In the early 1900s, an estimated 3-5 million elephants
thrived across a vast range in Africa. Today, there are only about 415,000
African elephants remaining in the wild, and their range has been reduced by
nearly half. They have suffered from massive amounts of poaching for their highly
prized ivory tusks. The demand for ivory was so steep that in 1989, an
international trading ban was put into place. However, illegal poaching
persists and results in the deaths of approximately 96 elephants every single
If current trends continue, it is entirely possible that they will be extinct in our lifetime, which is why we are on a mission to support elephants in the wild. This week, the Dallas Zoo has set a goal to raise $10,000 through grassroots fundraising to support conservation efforts in the wild. Read on to learn more about these amazing animals and what you can do at the Dallas Zoo to help!
Dallas Zoo’s herd
The Dallas Zoo’s award-winning Giants of the Savanna habitat is home to 8 magnificent African elephants. The “Golden Girls:” Jenny (42), Gypsy (37), Congo (41), Kamba (39) and the Swazis: Tendaji (approx. 15), Mlilo (approx. 15), Zola (approx. 15) and baby Ajabu (2).
The design of the Giants of the Savanna habitat was based
on field research and allows our elephants to be more active as they look for
food, water, and companionship, just as they would in the wild. Treats are
occasionally hidden in trees or in niches around the habitat, and elephants
exercise their trunk muscles to find those treats or to reach high-hanging hay
nets. They travel over small hills, into waterholes, and along an off-exhibit
pathway for additional workouts.
The Dallas Zoo elephants also have the luxury of their behind-the-scenes barn. The innovative barn is optimized for climate control – with radiant floor heating and padding in the winter months and movable walls that provide cross-ventilation in the summer heat. This barn also has a community room with 7-foot-deep sand floors used to bury food and toys, since the elephants are accomplished diggers.
An elephant’s life
are well-known for their intelligence, close family ties and social complexity,
and their capacity to remember other individuals and places for years. Elephants
have strong, individual personalities that affect how they interact with other
elephants and how others perceive them.
example of this at the Dallas Zoo can be seen among the Golden Girls. Jenny,
our oldest resident, is vocal and playful. Gypsy is mischievous, eager, and
loves attention. Congo is inquisitive and enjoys exploring. Lastly, Kamba is
friendly and cautious and enjoys being around the other elephants.
The position of head
of the family is held by a female known as the “matriarch.” Matriarchs express
their dominance in both competitive and cooperative situations. The most
successful leaders seem to be confident individuals who are able to command the
respect of others through both their wisdom and their charisma.
An elephant herd
consists of one or more (usually related) adult females and their immature
offspring who feed, rest, move, and interact in a coordinated manner and are
closely bonded. Members of a family show extraordinary teamwork and are highly
cooperative in group defense, resource acquisition, offspring care, and
Since January 2019, a group of dedicated conservation
interns has been learning all about African elephants – through interviews with
keepers, behind-the-scenes tours, and tons of research. It all culminates in
this special Conservation Week (March 9-16), when we will be engaging Dallas
Zoo guests to promote awareness about elephants and inspire conservation
This is an exciting time for us, as we get to show our months of hard work and dedication to the conservation of elephants. We have also worked countless hours ensuring that we are getting different departments of the zoo engaged and excited for the upcoming week of fun, information, and memorable experiences.
How YOU can help
way you can help elephants is to NEVER
purchase ivory or anything made from parts of elephants. Also share this
information with others around you so that you can help spread awareness and
begin the cycle of change.
A group of Dallas Zoo interns, including myself, have
organized a jammed-packed week full of fun events and conservation engagement.
We hope you join us at the Dallas Zoo during Swing Break through
March 17 to help us create a better world for animals.
We’ve set ambitious goals for Elephant
conservation, and we need your help to reach them:
$10,000 for elephant conservation – Help
us reach this goal by purchasing elephant swag from us at our Campaign Station
in the Zoo, or by attending any of the events during Swing Break.
2,500 personal pledges – Stop by
our Saving Elephants Campaign Station to take a pledge for pro-wildlife
behaviors that benefit elephants.
Please support our efforts of raising funds for elephants
so we can continue making a positive impact for the lives of the most majestic
Animal Care Supervisor of Birds and the Artificial Nest Development Project Coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Kevin Graham, guest blogs on ZooHoo!
After spending a day at the African penguin artificial nest manufacturing facility, it was time to head to Addo South African National Parks (SANParks) to meet the Marine Ranger team. This entailed an arduous drive along a pitted dirt road to the departure point for the helicopter that would ferry all of us across the ocean to our first penguin colony, Bird Island.
The artificial nests destined for this round of installation on Bird Island had arrived the day before, or at least most of them had. As is often the case, the reality of a situation doesn’t always match up with the plan that was put into place.
The group arrived at the “helipad,” a flat clearing in the middle of the massive sand dunes that’s used to land the helicopter and sling equipment over to the island. The artificial nest team members met the Addo SANParks Section Ranger, the island Colony Manager and a team of marine rangers and other local staff for a rules briefing. Bird Island is a destination that very few people have the opportunity to visit – it’s not accessible to the public at any time, and in normal circumstances the only people lucky enough to spend time on it are either rangers or field researchers that have received authorization. Our strong working relationship with Addo SANParks over the years allowed the nest project to do something that is extremely rare – bring a large team of non-locals to the island to work.
The team boards a helicopter to travel to the remote Bird Island.
With all of the gear, supplies and equipment ready, we had nothing left to do but eagerly await the arrival of the helicopter. The pilot has worked closely with Addo SANParks for quite a long time and is extremely helpful with access to the island. The only ways to get to Bird Island are via helicopter or by a boat trip that can range from two to five hours each way, depending on water conditions.
Several flights would be needed to transport the nests and the remaining supplies to the island, with the weight slung in a cargo net beneath the helicopter. The maximum weight capacity for the airlift on a calm day is only about 550 kilograms, the equivalent of 37 completed nests. We had 300 nests ready to be transported, in addition to the necessary supplies to survive four days on an island with little in the way of amenities. We estimated that we’d need approximately 10 trips across to carry all of the people, supplies, nests, and equipment.
The forecasted calm weather gradually turned into high winds after a couple trips across the ocean, which caused excessive air turbulence. This meant that fewer nests moved per airlift. The wind also didn’t cooperate on the next couple of days, so the remaining nests weren’t able to be transported until Friday, Feb. 22. Unfortunately, this was the last day the artificial nest group was slated to be on the island. On the plus side, the Marine Ranger team from Addo SANParks was trained in the assembly method for the nests and are familiar with the process of placing the nests correctly.
Members of the artificial nest team worked from early morning to the end of the day on any and every task that needed to be accomplished during our four-day stay on Bird Island. This included assembling the 35-pound artificial nests, carrying them into the colony from the boat house on the far end of the island, updating and maintaining the precision electronics used to monitor the nests, cleaning up marine debris, surveying for sick and/or injured birds, removing the older, ineffective nests from many years ago, GPS tagging of the new nests, and documenting the work. With the help of the dedicated Marine Ranger team from Addo SANParks, the nests were assembled and moved into place for the penguins to begin using. Since we had the equipment and knowledge, the nest team members also were able to work on the desalination plant for the island, which had been broken and unusable recently.
A penguin quickly makes use of one of our artificial nests.
In the long run, the four days of work went off mostly without a hitch, and everything that was intended to be finished was accomplished.
And, if you’re wondering if all of this is worthwhile… within 24 hours of the new nests being put into place, the occupancy rate was already 57%. In a massive surprise to all of us, one overly ambitious hen even laid an egg in a new nest less than half a day after it was placed. The feeling of awe is overwhelming, watching her look for somewhere she could safely incubate her egg and potentially raise a chick. It’s even more so when we realize we’ll provide thousands of birds this same opportunity of safely raising their offspring during the course of the project.
And on that note, we’ll be leaving Port Elizabeth to head to the Western Cape, where we’ll work in several more colonies. But first: a very long, very hot shower for us to wash about three inches of dirt away.
There’s so much going on at the Dallas Zoo, we had to start a blog to tell you about it all. Have an idea for a story or a question for us? Email Info@DallasZoo.com and put “ZooHoo!” in the subject line.