Conservation

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: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Crafting cranes for conservation

Dallas Zoo intern Paulina Serra engages guests at one of the whooping crane conservation tables at the Zoo. The intern fundraising campaign runs from July 7 – July 15.

Origami is the simple yet intentional act of folding paper in order to create a delicate piece of art. The practice takes very little material and requires no setup, but according to Dallas Zoo conservation and engagement intern Audrey Silvestre, you need more than just paper. “Origami takes precision and patience,” she says. “A fold that’s a little off can make the final creation look a wonky and lopsided. Being the perfectionist I am, I like to make sure each corner meets the other corner perfectly.”

Her patience has been tested and demonstrated over the past few weeks as she, alongside a group of 48 interns spanning 16 Dallas Zoo departments, has painstakingly crafted more than 1,000 origami cranes in the name of conservation.

Why Cranes?

In Japan, the origami crane is a symbol of hope in challenging times. The belief is, if you are determined enough to craft 1,000 cranes while concentrating on a specific purpose or goal, then your wish can be achieved. The interns took that to heart in honor of the Dallas Zoo’s current conservation focus – support for the endangered whooping crane.

Once upon a time, just 80 years ago, there were only 15 whooping cranes left in the wild. Through concerted conservation efforts, those numbers have slowly grown to almost 800 whooping cranes today in human care and in the wild. But there is still much work to be done before this species is secure.

In response, the Dallas Zoo is on a mission to raise $2.5 million to fund the construction of the Whooping Crane Center of Texas, an off-site whooping crane breeding facility that will be located a few miles from the Zoo. There, we’ll breed whooping cranes for release into the wild and will conduct research to continue to improve wild reintroduction efforts.

How can you help?

Dallas Zoo intern Audrey Silvestre, with a hanging origami crane art piece she created to be sold on-site at the Dallas Zoo this weekend.

Current Dallas Zoo interns have organized a fundraiser, with stations at the Zoo stocked with t-shirts, conservation wristbands, art, stickers, reusable totes, and water bottles, all featuring this amazing bird. Their goal is to raise $10,000 to contribute to the Zoo’s larger capital campaign. While supplies last, anyone who contributes to the fundraiser at the Zoo is gifted one of the interns’ 1,000 paper cranes as a small “thank you” for helping keep the hope alive for this iconic Texas species.

“My knowledge of these beautiful birds has definitely grown a lot since I’ve been here,” Silvestre shares. “It’s sad to know that our actions affect these creatures as well as other wildlife, but together we can definitely make a positive impact.”

There are several ways to get involved to help create a better world for the whooping cranes.

  • Support the interns at the Zoo this weekend by taking part in daily activities from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the ZooNorth Breezeway.
  • Purchase specially designed whooping crane products and original art inspired by cranes and their beauty.
  • Stop by to contribute to our goal of collecting 3,000 pledges for pro-environmental behaviors that benefit whooping cranes.
  • Say yes to “rounding-up for whooping cranes” when you buy something in our Zoofari Market.

If you can’t make it to the Zoo this weekend but still want to help out, you can also submit an electronic donation through paypal.me/DallasZoo. And keep an eye out for more news from the Dallas Zoo about ways you can help support our campaign to build the Whooping Crane Center of Texas!

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Dallas Zoo welcomes its first baby gorilla in 20 years

A close up of Hope’s sleeping baby./June 25

Dallas Zoo staff are smiling big after welcoming our first baby gorilla in 20 years on Monday, June 25. This also marks the fifth baby gorilla the zoo has cared for in nearly 50 years.

Our 22-year-old critically endangered western lowland gorilla named Hope quietly delivered the infant last Monday morning in the gorilla

barn after laboring for just over an hour. Hope and the baby are both doing well. Mom is tired but she’s tending to the infant perfectly, and the baby appears to be strong – gripping onto mom, and nursing frequently.

Baby was holding onto mom on its own (as it should) immediately after birth.

Silverback Subira, a first-time father, was the first member of the troop to greet the baby, gently putting his lips on the infant’s head shortly after birth.

“Welcoming a critically endangered gorilla into our family is one of the most significant animal announcements we can make, and we’ve

waited patiently for 20 years for this moment,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s President and CEO. “We’ve dedicated years of conservation field work to saving gorillas in the wild and now we’re proudly increasing their numbers in human care. We’re truly beaming with pride. ”

This is Hope’s second baby – she delivered her first in 2004 at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in Albuquerque, NM. Hope arrived at the Dallas Zoo in February 2017 on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation in *hopes* of increasing the population in North America.

“It’s taken a lot of perseverance, the right chemistry, and a team of dedicated animal experts to get here,” said Harrison Edell, Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “Reproducing critically endangered species is no easy feat, and this moment doesn’t come without its share of obstacles. We’re feeling a ton of emotions – excitement, relief, gratitude – and now we have to ensure this infant grows into a successful member of our gorilla troop.”

The zoo cares for nine gorillas, including its bachelor troop who live on the south side of the Gorilla Trail, and the family troop who live on the north side. The family troop remains behind the scenes where Hope and her baby are bonding privately. Hope continues to keep her baby close, so keepers have not been able to definitively confirm the gender.

Twenty-two-year-old father Subira is very curious of the infant and calmly investigates the little one; 13-year-old female Megan is the most inquisitive, staying very close to Hope; and 21-year-old female Shanta is extremely respectful of Hope, giving her privacy and space.

“It’s incredible to see how our troop is reacting to the baby – they’re all managing well and Hope has been super patient with their presence,” said Keith Zdrojewski, Dallas Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Carnivores. “Hope’s pregnancy lasted 8.5 months and we were able to monitor the baby’s growth along the way through ultrasound. Keepers trained Hope to voluntarily participate in her own health care, allowing us to observe movement; hear the heartbeat; see the infant’s bladder, spine, appendages; and confirm when its head was down.”

Due to habitat destruction, poaching for bush meat and the animal trafficking trade, and disease, gorillas have never been under greater threat in the wild. According to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the world’s leading gorilla conservation organization and a Dallas Zoo partner, there are approximately 350,000 western lowland gorillas left in Africa.

Native to the Congo Basin, western lowland gorillas are the smallest of the subspecies and the least critically endangered. There are roughly 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas, 880 mountain gorillas, and 300 Cross River gorillas remaining in the wild.

With 295 western lowland gorillas living in AZA-accredited zoos, the nation’s top zoos have never been more committed to protecting this species in human care and in their native habitat.

Baby rests while Hope eats (note mom’s food droppings).

The Dallas Zoo has supported gorilla conservation for many years. A species that is close to our President and CEO’s heart, Hudson is the immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, where he’s been a member since 2007. He serves on the board of directors for the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), as well. Zdrojewski is also on GRACE’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group – he helped the organization open a one-of-a-kind forest enclosure in the Congo for its orphaned Grauer’s gorillas in 2015.

Our animal care team aims for Hope and her baby to make their first scheduled public appearance within the next week or so. We will share the date on our social media pages, so stay posted!

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Gorilla | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

A special baby Witten update on World Giraffe Day

 

 Dallas Zoo North Savanna Assistant Supervisor Allison Dean, and Giraffe Keeper II Jessica Romano guest blog on ZooHoo!

It’s always exciting when we are expecting a new giraffe calf, but once that little… well, big bundle of joy is here, it takes a lot of work to integrate them into the herd. While giraffes are herd animals that live in large groups called “towers,” it’s important for mom and calf to have some private time in those first couple of days. Here at the Zoo, Chrystal and Witten spent their first days in our maternity stall away from the inquisitive herd. This area is filled with sand that helps newborns find sturdy footing as they learn to walk and keep up with mom. It also allows for uninterrupted bonding between mom and baby.

Witten stands close to mom Chrystal.

Once the calf is nursing well and is bonded with mom, we begin the process of introducing them to the rest of the herd. First up, our oldest giraffe, Auggie. His gentle nature, extreme tolerance, and protective personality makes him the go-to guy for babysitting when mom needs a break. Some individuals need more introduction time than others. Younger giraffes, like three-year-old Betty, are often more curious and can inadvertently be a bit of a bother to mom while she’s in protective-mommy mode. It’s all a normal part of herd dynamics and learning social behaviors for everyone, not just the new calf. The progress of the introductions is always on mom’s terms. After introductions are complete, it’s time to head out to a whole new world – the giraffe feeding habitat.

Learning to shift from the barn to the habitat can take a bit of work. Sometimes calves learn this process quickly and other times they need a little extra encouragement from mom to get over those first day jitters. Little by little, the calves get used to their new surroundings and make their way out to the habitat.

It’s hard to believe that Witten will be two months old next week. Seems like just yesterday he was taking his first steps and now he makes regular trips to the giraffe feeding habitat like a pro (or a pro-football player, *nudge nudge*). He’s sprouted up to 7 feet tall and weighs nearly 250 pounds! Those lanky legs are good for running post routes around the trees (and his mom). We’re sure Witten would spike the ball if he could carry one, but he usually just turns loose a high kick and a stomp to signify the completion of his run.

Witten has already made an impression and has become a great ambassador for his reticulated giraffe sub-species – it’s estimated there are less than 8,700 left in the wild. Giraffe populations are undergoing what conservationists call a “silent extinction” – the species is already extinct in at least seven African countries. They are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction due to a 40-percent population decline in the past 15 years with fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left. Human encroachment on their habitat has led to significant conflict and poaching.

On June 21, we celebrate World Giraffe Day to bring awareness to the issues facing this amazing species. Our partners at the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) work tirelessly in the field every day to protect these majestic animals. We’re proud to help fund GCF’s efforts to monitor giraffes and remove snares in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, home to more than 90 percent of the wild population of the Rothschild’s giraffe sub-species.

Learn more about how we’re helping save giraffes with GCF, and please consider donating directly to GCF on this special day dedicated to saving the long necks of the animal kingdom.

PS: It’s also National Selfie Day today, so we highly suggest you make a trip out to snap a selfie with our giraffes!

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Giraffe | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oak Cliff students host free dog wash with Zoo support

What’s the best way to learn valuable information about pet care all while getting your dog to be squeaky clean? Visit a dog wash! Our AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Chloe Miller, hosted a dog wash event Wednesday in Dallas with the help of elementary students from the Momentous Institute in Oak Cliff.

For the past few months, Chloe has helped Momentous Institute children come up with a local project to benefit the animals in the South Dallas community. The students identified an issue within the community and worked to help solve it. When they began discussing proper pet care and stray animals in the area, they saw a concern and wanted to implement a project that would help. Their initiative was quite impressive, too. They made a proposal to their classmates about the need to address this issue, they voted on which solution to pursue as a group, and they had experts come talk to them about viable options.

“By the end of the day, they were jumping out of their seats from excitement,” Miller said. “The idea is to give them the power and the tools they need to effect the change they wish to see. Most kids feel that they are too young to make a difference in their world, because that is exactly how they are treated. But I have learned through this experience that if you give them the opportunity, they will surprise and impress you continually.”

From the very start of Chloe’s time with the students, she wanted to introduce them to conservation work. She was able to help teach 30 students about conversation work while they did a litter cleanup in Cedar Creek. Since then, she has been encouraging them to see themselves as scientists and conservationists rather than passive bystanders.

This encouragement seemed to help because the students were very active with their project of choice. All their hard work culminated in Wednesday’s event. For an hour and a half, the kids washed 36 dogs for free while talking to the 100-plus guests about proper pet care, addressing topics like free spays and neuters.

Chloe said that during this whole process, she’s seen the students’ eyes light up with amazement as they discover what can be possible with conservation work—an experience she won’t forget soon.

“Kids are so much more open to new ideas than adults are,” said Miller. “Their potential as change-makers is utterly untapped. This feeling of reverence for the Earth is so powerful that if you experience it at a young enough age, you will never escape it. It’s meaningful to them, because they now possess a small window into the serenity of nature that they can expand.”

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