Random Acts of Kindness to the Earth


It’s National Random Acts of Kindness Day! While most think of this celebration as a chance to make a stranger’s day, we have a different type of kindness in mind. At the Dallas Zoo, we take pride in doing our part in protect the natural world, and thought it only appropriate to take some time to show our appreciation for the third rock from the sun. Although today may be Random Acts of Kindness Day, we challenge you to complete these simple actions below to show Mother Nature a little compassion year round.

Wildlife and nature go hand in hand. Habit loss and pollution are two of the leading causes of animal extinction and endangerment. Every 20 minutes, we lose at least one animal or plant species. Nearly 240 acres of wildlife habitat are destroyed every hour. If our actions go unchecked, 20% of the millions of species that exist could be extinct within the next 30 years – an unprecedented rate. It’s up to us to work together and make changes that promote sustainable actions in our everyday lives. With nearly 9 billion people projected to inhabit the Earth by 2050, these changes need to start now before our animal friends and their habitats are gone forever.

Select one (or five) of the following actions suggested by our friends at Reverse Litter and show Mother Earth you care by doing it today, and always:

  • Plant a tree. Trees give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilize the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They also provide us with materials DebTreesKids to create tools and shelter.
  • Recycle plastic bottles. Most plastic jugs and bottles are 100 percent recyclable. The City of Fort Worth offers a curbside recycling service that citizens can use to help reduce waste in our environment. You can also use a site like Earth 911’s Recycle Center to locate the closest recycling facility near you.
  • Shut off the water when brushing your teeth. You can save up to 8 gallons of water every day by turning off the tap while brushing your teeth.
  • Return your plastic grocery bags to the store’s recycling bin. The recycling bins are usually located at the entrance of the store. If you are pressed for time, sites like make it easy to locate the nearest plastic bag recycling bin near you.
  • Reuse disposable household items like newspapers, glass bottles, jars, plastic containers and paper bags. This will reduce your trash waste and make Mother Nature smile.Ink Cartridge and Other Recycling at ESC

Need some inspiration? Here’s a little food for thought as you go about your day!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
—Margaret Mead

Categories: Education | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Dallas Zoo, Dallas Symphony Orchestra bring ‘Music and Motion’ together for students



In a unique partnership that brought music and science alive for students, the Dallas Zoo and Dallas Symphony Orchestra developed a creative new program that melded animals and music, two things kids love but may never have imagined overlapping.

The program – which started at the Zoo to explore how animals move, and ended with soaring compositions at a unique DSO concert – encouraged cross-curricular learning, an interdisciplinary way of teaching that stimulates students to build connections and think in creative new ways.

In January, more than 3,000 students attended the culmination of this partnership, a “Music and Motion” youth concert featuring famous animal-themed music, along with orchestral arrangements of animal-inspired melodies composed by local students.

(Listen to the introduction to the performance.)

“Cross-curricular learning deepens the experience for students and can create connections that make learning real for them,” said Marti Copeland, Dallas Zoo’s director of Education. “Music stimulates the mind, and this program also incorporated movement, which has been shown to enhance brain activity. When students are doing something they are interested in or enjoy, they are ready to learn.”

Students kicked off the program in September with a special Animal Adaptations Tour, guided by Zoo educators. They observed animal movements, which were then related to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) in Science through adaptations and physical traits used for survival. Students met a variety of animal ambassadors as they also searched for musical inspiration, including ocelots, flamingos, kangaroos, koalas, spider monkeys, and even Rufus – the Zoo’s illustrious bobcat.

“It was exciting to see the students in front of an exhibit and hear them talk about what they saw,” said Anna Lewis, the Dallas Zoo’s camp coordinator. “I loved seeing them try to move like the animals and make connections from one exhibit to another.”

Following the tour, Dallas Symphony Orchestra teaching artists led an interactive music composition workshop at the Zoo. Students were steered through the creative process, learning how to apply their observations of animal movements to write melodies.

A number of these original melodies, including “Leaping Kangaroos,” “Stalking Bobcats,” “Swinging Spider Monkeys” and more, then were selected and arranged for full orchestra by DSO Education Director Jamie Allen. The combined excerpts formed the single “Music and Motion” composition featured in youth concerts performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in January.

“I always enjoy seeing the ‘aha’ moment when that light bulb of inspiration hits,” Allen said. “We wanted to adapt the idea of music to animals in order to expand children’s minds, because learning doesn’t happen in silos. That’s just not how kids think.”

At the “Music and Motion” premiere, groups of DFW students were abuzz with excitement in the Meyerson Symphony Center as DSO Assistant Conductor Ruth Reinhardt introduced a flurry of animal-inspired pieces. Students heard the Dallas Symphony Orchestra perform such movements as Saint-Saën’s “Carnival of the Animals,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and Mancini’s “Pink Panther.”

(Listen to the Music and Motion performance.)

But the highlight of the afternoon was the world premiere of “Dallas Zoo Melodies.” Local student-composers enthusiastically clapped, cheered, and imitated their favorite animals as they heard their works come alive.

“The students who participated in the ‘Music and Motion’ program at the Zoo were very engaged throughout the experience,” Copeland said. “They were so creative in coming up with a rhythm and melody for each type of animal movement. When I heard the world premiere of ‘Dallas Zoo Melodies’ at the Meyerson this week, I enjoyed picking out the different animal-inspired melodies. The ‘Stalking Bobcat’ tune has stayed in my head for days!”

Love learning and animals? Find out more about the Dallas Zoo’s amazing classroom programs and partnerships  today!

Categories: Education | Leave a comment

Teen Science Café proves science is cool at Dallas Zoo


Ninth grader Ronak Dhingra, and Teen Science Café teen leader, guest-blogs on ZooHoo!tsc_logo

The Teen Science Café Network, founded by the National Science Foundation, is a national organization that aims to get teens passionate and excited about science at an early age, with the hope they will consider a STEM career. Why teens? We are the next generation of the workforce and the future of society.

According to the STEM advocacy group Change the Equation, only 36 percent of all high school graduates are ready to take a college-level science course. Our cafés bring science to life by people who love it and experience it everyday – real scientists. These scientists share what is fun about what they do (without using any jargon). Our hope is to shift some perspectives and get teens to see that maybe they do like science even though they may not enjoy it at school.

The Dallas Zoo Teen Science Café was started last summer. We selected the Dallas Zoo to host because of its reputation as a leading zoo in the nation, and its many programs geared towards children. I felt, as a former Dallas Zoo Youth Volunteer, that the Zoo would be a great sponsor for a Teen Science Café.


Humboldt penguins along the Peruvian coast during Dr. Patty McGill’s last trip in Jan. 2016. Photo credit: Austin McKahan, Kansas City Zoo digital marketing manager

Dallas Zoo’s vice president of Conservation and Education, Dr. Patty McGill, kicked off our first-ever café. She has a cool job that includes traveling up and down the Chilean and Peruvian coasts counting and studying Humboldt penguins. She led the audience in a series of activities in which we had to look at a picture of many birds from afar and estimate how many penguins there were. This may seem easy, but it gets hard when there are many black and white birds standing in a crowd!  It was also very cool to walk through the Zoo at night when nobody else is there.


Dr. Patty McGill (far right), and Dallas Zoo Director of Education, Marti Copeland, pose with teen leader, Ronak Dhingra, and other café members.

Our second café featured Professor John Sibert from the University of Texas at Dallas who spoke about “The Mighty Atom: From Discovery to Molecular Architecture.” He demonstrated how molecular architecture was connected to the building we were sitting in. He also had us make our own spectroscopes, which are instruments that allow us to identify elements and materials using light spectrums.

When I looked through my spectroscope, I saw the element “signatures,” which were bands of color differing from one element to another in small ways. It’s amazing to think of how these relatively few building blocks make everything up.

From these cafés with amazing speakers, teens take away cool facts and knowledge about science and, most importantly, a passion for STEM.

Hey, teens, join us at one of our next cafés:

Jan. 15: Computation + Creativity: The New Literacy by Professor Greenberg (Southern Methodist University, computer science)

March 19: Professor Gonzalez (University of Texas at Dallas, biology)

April 23: Professor Ranganathan (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, biology)

I promise these events will be fun and exciting! Hope to see you then.

Categories: Education | Tags: | Leave a comment

Christmas is for the birds

A snowman is a non-traditional bird feeder, but can work in a pinch as long as the weather cooperates.

A snowman is a non-traditional bird feeder, but it can work as long as the weather cooperates.

Dean of Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy, Ben Jones, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

With 98.5% of all North American migratory birds, and 637 of the 957 total North American bird species recorded in our state, you can say Texas is for the birds! Feeding and identifying birds is an amazing nature adventure that’s fun, intellectually challenging and pleasant to watch and listen.

The average yard has 15 different bird species visitors. With a little effort, you can increase your species count to around 50.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker is seen through a bird-spotting scope. The Dallas Count Circle spotted six sapsuckers on their recent outing.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker is seen through a bird-spotting scope. The Dallas Count Circle spotted six sapsuckers on their recent outing.

Tips to increase your yard bird count:

  • Try offering different foods.
  • Place feeders at different levels. Birds find their food by sight and like to eat at the same level they would find their food in the wild.
  • Try a high quality seed mix to attract cardinals, blue jays, doves, chickadees, and titmice.
  • Add peanuts into the mix for woodpeckers and nuthatch.
  • Add thistle seed this winter for finches. You’ll need a special feeder for thistle or you can pour it into a mesh sock.
  • Suet is a great bird food for winter. Fatty suet provides extra energy for birds during cold months

Some bird species live here year-round, and some are migratory and travel with the seasons. The Christmas Bird Count is the oldest citizen science initiative in the world with tens of thousands of people counting resident and migratory birds. This year on an unseasonably warm Saturday, 37 participants from the Dallas Count Circle identified 107 total species at and around the Dallas Zoo. Some special bird species spotted this year include the greater and lesser yellowlegs, loggerhead shrike, Bewick’s wren and a horned grebe.

This winter watch for resident species like blue jays, northern cardinals, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadee, woodpeckers and mourning, inca and white-wing doves. Also, look closely for migratory species like dark-eyed juncos, American goldfinches, red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches.

Of course, where there is an abundance of bird activity, there could always be bird-eaters.  Make sure your cats stay indoors and watch for raptors like Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks.

So, what are you waiting for? Put out a few feeders. Try some new seed mixes. Sip a hot chocolate and let the winter bird fun begin!


Categories: Birds, Education | Leave a comment

Zoo-based AmeriCorps member looks to engage community, build relationships


_mg_6601-ben-beckley-americorpsMy name is Ben Beckley, and I am here through the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program. AmeriCorps is like the domestic version of the Peace Corps. The mission of VISTA is to alleviate poverty and build capacity for self-sustaining movements within the community. It’s uncommon to have a VISTA working at a zoo rather than a more direct service non-profit, but Dallas Zoo’s education department wants to be more involved with its surrounding communities through outreach programs. The AmeriCorps program allows them to do that, while also tending to its own goal of alleviating poverty.

I moved to DFW from Indiana with an English degree from Ball State University. This Hoosier ended up here because it seemed like the job I would enjoy the most out of the available AmeriCorps project sites. So far, that belief has held firm. It has been a wonderful ride.

Over the next year, I am creating a project partnering with schools and organizations in Oak Cliff. The reason for targeting Oak Cliff is twofold: for one, the community has a huge disparity of wealth – where one street has rundown houses and broken sidewalks, and the next one over has million-dollar abodes with well-manicured lawns. Two, Oak Cliff is in the Zoo’s neighborhood, and serves as a good starting point for the revitalization of the community outreach program.

My project aims to educate young and old learners and provide opportunities for work and life experience through community action – like litter clean-up, habitat revitalization or a community garden. I also aim to build a community volunteer service that will continue educating and working after I leave. My second function here is a youth volunteer coordinator. This includes revising evaluation methods, working with the volunteers and finding ways to expand the Zoo’s volunteer program in new and exciting ways.

The connection between the Zoo and alleviating poverty might seem thin at this point, so let me elaborate. I am working with mostly primary and middle school youth to help them learn about conservation and community involvement in conjunction with what they are learning in school. With the AmeriCorps position, I am not directly servicing the community, but “building capacity.” This means instead of telling them what to do, I give am giving the community the tools to make a difference as they see fit.

For this project, I’m using a framework called Roots & Shoots. It’s a student-driven exercise crafted by the Jane Goodall Institute that lets kids take charge of the project and steer it through community research and classroom discussions. Ideally, the students’ parents will be involved, so they can take the project to their neighborhoods and start the movement of change throughout the community.

All in all, there is still a lot to do with the project, and it will be a few years before we begin noticing tangible results. However, I am ecstatic to be here to get it started. I have had nothing but a warm reception from all my coworkers in the Zoo, and it certainly has felt like the right fit for me. I look forward to continuing my tenure here! And please, if you have any questions or just want to chat, feel free find me in the Children’s Zoo.

Categories: Education | Leave a comment

Brought to you by the Dallas Zoo