Enrichment

Gorilla groovin’: Promoting play through enrichment

 

Dallas Zoo’s Primate Keeper II Ashley Orr guest blogs for ZooHoo!

You may have seen the original viral video of gorilla Zola dancing in a puddle when he was a youngster living at Calgary Zoo, and his passion for splashin’ has only continued with age! However, there’s a lot more to this behavior than a great ape groovin’ in the water.

Zola is a 14-year-old male Western lowland gorilla, and the youngest member of our bachelor troop. When he isn’t hanging out in the South gorilla habitat, Zola spends his hours inside our roomy gorilla building. The big, blue pool featured in this video is one of many enrichment items the gorilla keepers use to engage primates.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums defines enrichment as a process to ensure that the behavioral and physical needs of an animal are being met by providing opportunities for species-appropriate actions and choices. Enrichment helps enhance the environment and lives of animals by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior. This is an important component in caring for all zoo animals, but primate enrichment is among the most complex and varied.

Enrichment can take many forms; it can be an object such as a ball, a scent like an herb or perfume, visual stimulation such as a mirror, a change in an animal’s company or location, an activity like painting or training, introduction of a new food, or a challenging food presentation… the options are almost limitless! As keepers, we are constantly coming up with new and fresh ways to enrich our animals. And clearly the pool is a favorite for Zola!

Zola’s “dancing” is really just a play behavior (there was no breakdance music playing in the building, we promise). Play is a natural behavior present in a wide array of animals. In fact, the presence of play can signify an animal is content or comfortable, and it is recognized as an indicator for general welfare. It is easy for anyone to appreciate the good time that Zola is having in the pool because we recognize some of the same signs of play that we see in people.

Gorillas in the wild have been observed to willingly enter the water to feed or to cross to other areas. Some gorillas have even been documented using long sticks to probe beneath the water and gauge depth for safe passage (fun fact, gorillas are anatomically too dense to swim). This is an impressive example of great ape intelligence.

Visit Zola and the three other gorillas in our bachelor troop, or the four members of the family troop, to watch them engage with enrichment in their habitats. Proceeds from your visit help purchase enrichment items for our Zoo animals, and also support our conservation partners in the field, like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), that help gorillas in the wild.

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

Hockaday high school students monkey around with primate enrichment

Hockaday students present their enrichment devices at the Zoo

Hockaday students present their enrichment devices at the Zoo

For most high school students, the semester is filled with standard classes like calculus, biology, english, and history – but a group of five Hockaday students can proudly add monkeying around with STEM to their academic repertoire.

President and CEO Gregg Hudson congratulates the students on their hard work

President and CEO Gregg Hudson congratulates the students on their hard work

It all began with a unique partnership between the Zoo and the Hockaday School. Several Hockaday students were already involved in our Teen Science Café and Zoo Corps group, so it only seemed natural to find a way to further engage other students, using Zoo related problem solving.

“We value long-term partnerships like this because they can result in a deeper connection with the Zoo’s conservation mission. As the students delve into their projects and learn more about the animals they are helping, they can come away feeling more connected to the animals, which is important since their generation does and will have so many opportunities to make a positive difference for species worldwide,” said Dallas Zoo’s director of Education Marti Copeland.

The Hockaday School had just the person for taking on this wild task. Science teacher Leon de Oliveira began a brand new course for the semester entitled “Community Impact by Design.” The class allowed students to work in small groups while engaging in the design and engineering process in order to solve a problem. This year’s challenge: find a creative way to encourage small primates to use more vertical space in their exhibit.

Keepers put Wendy's and Kate's treat shaker to the test

Keeper Audra C. put Wendy’s and Kate’s treat shaker to the test after filling it with food

How exactly does one prompt a primate to move onwards and upwards? Through enrichment, of course! However, Zoo staff left the designing fully up to the students. The class made multiple trips to the Zoo to observe their subjects while working closely with primate keepers and our education team. After multiple models and prototypes made out of various approved materials, the students were able to turn their ideas into actual enrichment items.

“I have just been blown away by their creativity and perseverance throughout the challenge. To see the whole process starting from their initial cardboard designs to the final product was incredible. What a transformation!” Education supervisor Courtney Jonescu said.

Hockaday seniors Wendy Ho and Kate Keough created a “treat shaker” out of PVC pipe. The capsule shaped item, designed to hang from a tree branch, has maze-like layers of plexiglass on the inside. Primates must shake the apparatus to move food through the levels until it falls out a small hole at the bottom in order to be consumed.

Sophomore Meredith Jones approached the task from a different perspective, developing a “treat tree” with branches for food pieces to hang. Primates must pull levers in order to release the tree, allowing it to sprout out of a PVC pipe and reveal more and more treats depending on which lever is activated.

Spider monkeys eagerly engage with the enrichment device

Spider monkeys eagerly engage with the enrichment device

Junior Annie Allen and senior Audrey Black cleverly worked together to craft a “ball box.” The cube-like structure is made of mesh and houses a second cube within it, filled with whiffle balls, which have perfectly sized holes for primates to reach their fingers into and attempt to work food out.

“You had to really think like a monkey and consider everything that they could do, like their strength,” Allen explained.

And think like a monkey they did! Wendy’s and Kate’s treat shaker was even put to the test on May 11 after the students presented their final enrichment deliverables to Zoo staff and interested onlookers. Keepers hung the device from a branch in the spider monkey habitat, warning that the primates might be somewhat shy to approach it – but the troop proved otherwise.

“The device worked exactly like the students hoped it would, and the spider monkeys were immediately interested in it. They looked down the tube through the plexiglass window, just like the girls imagined they would.  Then they manipulated the tube until yummy treats fell out of the flawlessly cut hole at the bottom. It turned out to be perfect and all of us were thrilled to see that,” said Jonescu.

We think the students deserve an A+ for their hard work, creativity, ingenuity – after all, it’s not every day that one receives the monkey seal of approval.

Categories: Education, Enrichment, Mammals, Monkey | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Fidelity Cares for the Dallas Zoo by the numbers

Fidelity volunteers from the Westlake campus make magnets

Fidelity volunteers make magnets at their Westlake campus

Most people probably don’t wake up in the morning and drive to work with the intention of cleaning up an

Volunteers gather mulch for the elephant exhibit

Volunteers gather mulch for the elephant exhibit

elephant walkway or making a bridge for barnyard animals, but for nearly 700 employees at the Fidelity campus in Westlake, that’s exactly what how they spent their workday.

It’s Fidelity Cares Day, an annual day of volunteering and giving back to local communities for Fidelity Investments employees around the world. And today we sent eight Dallas Zoo staff members to the campus to lead a series of unique projects that will benefit our animals, conservation partners, and the Dallas community. Plus, about 100 Fidelity volunteers spent the day at the Zoo, working with zookeepers on various projects from landscaping to habitat clean-up.

“This amazing day of service is a great way for volunteers to further the Dallas Zoo’s goals, impact, and mission of engaging people and saving wildlife,” said Nicole Sweeney, Dallas Zoo’s Corporate Giving Manager.

Painted canvases for the 96 elephant mosaic

Painted canvases for the 96 elephant mosaic

Our volunteers kicked off Fidelity Cares Day by making magnets – but these magnets aren’t your average fridge trinket. Each one is made of a piece of canvas painted by an animal at the Dallas Zoo. Fidelity volunteers adhered magnetic strips and labels to the back of approximately 970 of these artistic creations. These masterpieces will be sold at Bishop Arts Districts’ The Local Oak restaurant this Friday-Sunday (May 4-6), and will benefit the Dallas Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK).

Fidelity staff also contributed to Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants campaign, which raises awareness about elephant poaching. Fittingly, 96 volunteers painted a canvas to remind Zoo visitors that every day in Africa, 96 elephants are killed for their ivory. The hanging mosaic will be placed in the Simmon’s Base Camp as a symbol of our dedication to elephant conservation.

Keeper Jenn Lim led the goat bridge construction project

Keeper Jenn Lim led the goat bridge project

The next project required a little more elbow grease. Roughly 25 volunteers spent four hours assembling a goat bridge – yep, a bridge for our goats. They sanded, screwed, hammered, and applied stain to a large wood play structure for our goat yard. The structure consists of two sets of stairs and one bridge, which will be used by kids of both the human and goat variety for parallel play in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo. Research shows that parallel play helps many children develop empathy. As children use the bridge alongside animal friends, our hope is that it will strengthen their connection to wildlife.

Throughout the day, multiple seed ball making stations were set up at the Westlake campus for volunteers to walk up and form using a mix of native seeds, compost, and clay. The seed balls will be used to restore prairie habitat at local schools. Once placed in these locations, the seeds will germinate and help reestablish native plants species for local wildlife. Fidelity volunteers created 13,200 seed balls today – whew!

Debarking logs for chimps

Debarking logs for the chimp habitat

We would like to sincerely thank all of the generous Fidelity volunteers who paid it forward with sweat equity and hard work in order to make the Zoo, and our community, a better place. Looking at the numbers alone, it’s amazing what a single group of people accomplished in just one day.

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

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: , , | 2 Comments

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

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