Bamboo donation a welcome treat


Red river hog plays in enrichment-CBThree acres of overgrown bamboo is a good problem to have, as long as you’re a Dallas Zoo animal! Our red river hogs, primates and many other animals are now benefiting from Paula Hagan and George Muszejnski’s landscape problem at their Lake Tyler property.

The couple donated more than 3,000 feet of valuable timber bamboo to be used as animal enrichment.

Enrichment is anything that enhances animal behaviors or their natural environments, according to Dallas Zoo Enrichment Committee Chair Jenifer Joseph. This can include spreading an evening snack for a tiger all across the habitat or building complex scratching structures out of natural products for the hogs and giraffes.

Bamboo is especially useful for animal enrichment because of its versatility. Food is stuffed in it for animals to dig out (think nature’s Kong toy), and it’s made into fencing, scratchers and more for the animals.

IMG_7806 Bamboo 4H CS-resize“George and I had thought about trying to find a buyer for it, but we were also wondering if the Dallas Zoo would have any use for it,” said Hagan. “Then we visited the Zoo in May with our family and noticed bamboo fencing the same size as what we had cut down.”

Hagan and Muszejnski are happy to do a good deed for Hagan’s late grandmother, who was an animal lover and originally planted the bamboo to use as fishing rods.

Now in the hands of the Zoo, staff and volunteers are giving the bamboo a second life all across the Zoo’s 106 acres.

But what about enrichment for our larger-than-life animals? Easy. DSC_0165We love larger-than-life natural donations. The Zoo’s award-winning Giants of the Savanna exhibit received a root ball from a large tree removed from Highland Park. Our elephants treat large logs and tree roots like furniture, moving them all around the habitat.

Interested in helping with Dallas Zoo animal enrichment? Check out these two options:

  • E-mail info@dallaszoo.com if you have a very large quantity of tree limbs, root balls, logs, etc. that you would donate.
  • Visit the Local Oak restaurant in Oak Cliff this weekend (June 23-26). A portion of all food and beverage sales will be donated to the Zoo’s Enrichment Committee.
IMG_1051 IMG_7820 Bamboo 4H CS-resize
Categories: Enrichment | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Masterpieces from the Animal Kingdom


Some of Texas’s most innovative artists aren’t just painting with their hands, but with their feet, trunks and beaks. Awe-inspiring masterpieces from Dallas Zoo residents are being displayed permanently at Grapevine Mills starting this weekend, with the grand reveal happening at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, in the corridor near Santa’s Winter Wonderland.

Our Animal Adventures team will make a special appearance from 2-3 p.m., too.

The Zoo’s art program is one of the many ways we offer stimulating enrichment activities for our residents. It lets animals experience new and changing elements in their environment, helping them remain healthy and mentally engaged.

The creation process varies depending on the animal. Cockatoos are taught to hold a paintbrush in their beaks, then give it back to the keeper in exchange for food. Over time, the keeper adds non-toxic paint to the brush and introduces the canvases into the habitat, at which point the animals learn to paint. A lot of animals use their body parts to paint, including red river hogs who use their snouts! Animals like ball pythons or penguins, slither or walk on the non-toxic paint, then waddle or slide across the canvas, leaving beautiful scale-prints and footprints.

Want a piece of an animal art for yourself? Stop by our Zoofari Market gift shop to purchase a magnet and 100% of the profits will go directly toward enriching the lives of our residents.

For a sneak peek at the exhibit, check out photos of some paintings and excerpts from the animal bios:

  • Jenny, an African elephant, has lived at the Dallas Zoo since 1986. She weighs 10,000 pounds and eats between 200 and 300 pounds of food each day.

_MG_7527-Jenny elephant painting (800x533)

  • Riley the red river hog weighs 135 pounds and was born April 26, 2006. Red river hogs are omnivorous, nocturnal and highly sociable animals.

_MG_9301-Riley red river hog

  • This painting is a collaboration of the Dallas Zoo’s bachelor troop of gorillas, who are 12-13 years old. These boys love to play and wrestle and have an abundance of energy.

IMG_3332 gorilla Painting CS (533x800)

  • Topper is a 16-year-old, male, white (or umbrella) cockatoo. White cockatoos can be found on the Maluku Islands (or Moluccas) in Indonesia and are endangered due to habitat loss and trapping for the pet trade.

IMG_3409 Topper Painting CS

  • Melati is a 178-pound Sumatran tiger who was born May 24, 2006. She has a rather distinct palate and fancies ground pork mixed in with her regular diet.

_MG_4855-Malati tiger (800x740)

  • Opus is a 28-year-old African penguin, the smallest in the Dallas Zoo’s colony. African penguins are an endangered species and populations continue to decline due to food shortages from overfishing, oil pollution, and human disturbance at nest sites.

_MG_5807-Opus penguin painting

  • This painting is a collaboration of three chimps: KC, Koko, and Kona.  KC, 18, is the alpha, or troop leader, of the Dallas Zoo chimpanzees. Koko, KC’s half-sister, is 30 and readily participates in any activity involving food. Kona, 6, learned how to paint by watching his elders and wants to be involved in any group activity.

_MG_5825-Doyle chimp with painting

  • Tasanee is the youngest Asian small-clawed otter at the Dallas Zoo. She is a miracle in her own right, being the only single-born female pup in the nation to survive in over 12 years. Asian small-clawed otters form very strong family bonds and are more social than other otter species.

_MG_9768-otters with painting

  • Iggy and Hydrox are black-and-white ruffed lemurs. Due to deforestation in Madagascar, this species is highly endangered.

_MG_5753-Hydrox lemur with painting

  • Dewey, a ball python, was born in the reptile house at the Dallas Zoo on July 2, 2001. This nonvenomous python species is native to Africa.

_MG_9743-Dewey-ball python

  • The Dallas Zoo’s group of 12 adult and 45 baby Texas horned lizards help spread awareness about conservation of a native reptile species. Texas horned lizards are one of three species of horned lizard found in Texas and are the state reptile.

_MG_5018-horned lizard with painting

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

How to train a mongoose 101

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

How in the world do you find out if a dwarf mongoose is pregnant?

You weigh her! And that’s also a great way to monitor an animal’s overall health.

But teaching these adorably sassy critters to sit on a scale isn’t for the impatient. Luckily, the Dallas Zoo has keeper Sara Bjerklie, who’s developed a special relationship with Happy, Sleepy, Sally and Jada.

Since last fall, she’s worked diligently five times a week with the small African carnivores. The key: cat food. It’s part of the mongooses’ daily diet and is a delicious, motivating snack.

“It’s been fun to see their individual personalities come out during training,” Bjerklie said. “Happy lives up to his name and loves to train, just not always on his station. I like to think he has an excess of energy and just can’t stop moving. Sleepy’s the opposite, he’s a little shy guy. But with a lot of time spent together, he’s warmed up and we’ve created a great bond.”

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Mother and daughter duo Sally and Jada are typically the dominant pair in the pack. But they seem a little wary to train, and they took longer to grasp it.

The animals first trained on blue plates placed on the ground, and Bjerklie would ask them to “station” on their individual plate. As progress was made, she moved the plates on top of a small scale. And voila, we have weights! Kudos to Sara on her skill – and her persistence.

Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Enrichment, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: | Leave a comment

Little hands build big enrichment for animals


Christina Eastwood, hoofstock keeper and Dallas Zoo enrichment committee chair, guest blogs on ZooHoo!.

Little girl makes a papier-mâché ball for the chimpanzee enrichment.

Little girl makes a papier-mâché ball for chimpanzee enrichment.

With a collection of more than 2,000 animals, providing fun enrichment to help our residents stay active and elicit natural behaviors isn’t the easiest task. We need extra hands to build “enrichment” items with us.

They may be smaller, sometimes sticky, hands, but they’re full of energy and the desire to help. Since 2011, children ages 5 to 19 from the 4-H Dallas chapter have created enrichment items with us. After our Enrichment Committee invited the kids out for the first time, we were so impressed with their hard work and ambition that we made it a permanent partnership.

The 4-H students work on items from papier-mâché balls for the chimps to break open and find a food surprise, to bamboo curtains for giraffes to scratch between their ossicones, to fire-hose cubes for elephants to swing in the air with their massive trunks.

4-H volunteers drill holes while making a wood/coconut mobile for giraffes.

4-H volunteers drill holes while making a wood/coconut mobile for giraffes.

Some animals spar with the items, or rip them open to eat the treats inside, just like they would in the wild. Because of the quick destruction, we constantly need to replenish our supply — which is why this partnership benefits the Zoo so immensely.

4-H teens make fire-hose cubes for elephant enrichment.

4-H teens make fire-hose cubes for elephant enrichment.

One Saturday every month, the 4-H students come to the Zoo and construct new items for our animals. In turn, we teach them helpful skills, such as using tools and learning about construction design. And the best part: after creating these items, the kids get to watch the animals enjoy them. And the students get to interact one-on-one with zookeepers and learn about the animal’s lifestyle and conservation needs. For many kids, it opens up their eyes to a new career field.

Through this unique partnership, the Dallas County 4-H groups have received both regional and national recognition by their peers and have been a model for other groups nationwide. They’ve inspired other groups to reach out to animal and wildlife facilities. We’re very proud of this partnership and look forward to continuing it for many years to come.


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PART TWO: Gorillas’ health a key part of habitat inspection

Gorilla keeper Cindy McCaleb brings fresh food into the gorilla habitat./Dallas Zoo

Primate keeper Cindy McCaleb brings fresh food into the gorilla habitat./Dallas Zoo

Editor’s note: Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. Part Two: The gorilla habitat.

Preparation of the gorilla habitat also begins early every morning, and includes an extra task: Anyone entering the building must don boots, and visitors also must wear rubber gloves and a mask, so no illnesses are passed to the gorillas, or vice versa. Gorillas can catch nearly any ailment that humans can, even the common cold!

Today the primary caretakers responsible for the care of the gorilla habitats are Cindy McCaleb, Primate Keeper, and Sarah Villarreal, Primate Supervisor, both of whom are very familiar with the eight Western lowland gorillas.

Inside the building, one of the volunteers prepares vitamin sandwiches. McCaleb heads out to walk the South habitat, cleaning and checking every corner for branches hanging into the exhibit, toxic plants, or food or trash that may have blown in. She points out squash and tomato plants that have begun growing out of dropped seeds from the gorilla food. Soon, these plants will start bearing fruit, and the gorillas will find a nice treat.

After the initial cleaning is complete, McCaleb circles back and dispenses food. The gorillas’ diet ranges from primate chow to many kinds of fruits and vegetables – these smart animals need a lot of diversity so they don’t tire of any one food. Today’s treat is corn on the cob, hidden away so the gorillas will have fun finding it.

McCaleb cleans the water features in the gorilla exhibit before the Zoo opens./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb cleans the water features in the gorilla exhibit before the Zoo opens./Dallas Zoo

After Cindy finishes both sides of the gorilla habitat, she returns to the kitchen. “The busiest time comes first thing in the morning,” she says. First, the keepers say good morning and do a visual check of all three females (Megan, Madge and Shanta) and five males (Zola, Shana, B’wenzi, Juba and Subira). The keepers look carefully for any abnormalities on the bodies of the animals, who range in weight from 175 pounds (Megan) to 430 pounds (B’wenzi).

“That’s where the medical aspect comes in,” McCaleb says. “You have to recognize the signs and know what’s normal and what isn’t.” This is crucial to keeping the gorillas healthy.

One keeper prepares juice and grapes to be used in training sessions, while another begins cleaning the habitats. The gorilla exhibit totals two acres, and sometimes one keeper must clean it all. After finishing, though, another keeper checks it for the safety of staff and animals. As with the big cats, the gorilla keepers also perform a detailed perimeter check.

McCaleb spreads the produce out for the gorillas to find./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb spreads the produce out for the gorillas to find./Dallas Zoo

The keepers have a training session with the females and Subira to teach behaviors, such as “open mouth” to check their teeth and “full body checks” for medical management. Then they’re released into their habitat.

The males have their own training session, presenting body parts so keepers can check for injuries or abnormalities, and may sometimes be taught a new behavior. For instance, the keepers have been preparing the gorillas for a cardiac ultrasound, so training includes getting them used to a plastic wand similar in size and feel to the one used in ultrasounds. Because gorillas are more communicative through body language than vocalizations, the keepers will point to the area they want the gorillas to present, in addition to saying it aloud.

After training, the males head into their habitat. But the keepers aren’t done: they quickly start cleaning the inside of the night quarters and prepare food for the next day. They also check the enrichment schedule and set out enrichment items for the gorillas to investigate overnight.

These enrichment items vary, from barrels that dole out small amounts of food when rolled around to raisin boards that act as a sort of puzzle for the gorillas to solve. When the animals come in for the night, they start playing with the enrichment toys immediately. McCaleb has even found them with the barrels on their heads!

The gorillas move around freely in their wooded habitat, designed with moats and secluded areas, which is why they may be harder for the public to spot. “We want to let the gorillas feel they have some sort of control, and they have the choice to move away,” McCaleb says.

McCaleb washes the inside viewing windows./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb washes the inside viewing windows./Dallas Zoo

Decisions such as that result from keepers becoming very close to the gorillas. “You in a sense become a part of the troop,” she adds. “If they like what you’re doing, they rumble – you know you’ve done well when you hear the rumble.”

And the way the keepers behave around the animals is important. “If you come in laid back and relaxed, they’ll be laid back and relaxed, too,” McCaleb explains. “If you come in stressed and tense, it will make them stressed and tense. You have to keep calm when you’re with them.”

24/7/365 dedication

Taking care of animals is a constant job — lions, cheetahs and gorillas don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. Every day, no matter what the weather is or if it’s a holiday, keepers feed and care for their animals.

“We’re here every day, no matter what,” says carnivore keeper Becky Wolf.

The keepers become family, spending most of their time with their animals and each other. And it’s a calling, a labor of love. “It’s the best job in the world,” Wolf adds. “But it’s not a job where you just play with animals – it’s a lot of work.”

A lot of science and research goes into their jobs; keepers at the Dallas Zoo have graduated from college, with degrees varying from biology to zoology to animal studies, even psychology. (McCaleb’s major was social work; she says it helps greatly in identifying animal behavior). Keepers regularly work on projects that involve studying and research.

Keeper Sara Squires began volunteering at the Denver Zoo at age 18 and has been a keeper of hoofstock, hogs, and now lions and cheetahs. She hopes to one day become a behaviorist, which would allow her to still have close contact with the animals.

McCaleb first became interested in gorillas as a child when she saw noted researcher Jane Goodall on television, eventually hearing Goodall speak at her school. She began working at the zoo 15 years ago as a research volunteer, then moved to the animal hospital, then to birds, eventually working her way to gorillas.

It’s a tough job, but a rewarding one.

“People come to this job because they’re so excited to work with the animals,” Cindy says. “They’re so passionate… and that’s what gets you up in the morning.”

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Enrichment, Gorilla, Mammals, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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