Enrichment

PART ONE: Lion-cheetah habitat gets special attention

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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 ONE: The lion-cheetah exhibit.

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

It’s 6:45 a.m. when Sara Hamlin parks behind the lion and cheetah quarters. She’s followed closely by Becky Wolf and Sara Squires, the two primary keepers of these big cats. The sun is just rising and the lions are roaring.

“They’re just saying good morning to each other,” Hamlin explains. She’s been a part of the Dallas Zoo staff for just 10 days, and she’s already used to the noisy greetings. Or maybe she remembers the male lions, Kamaia and Dinari – she used to work at the zoo where they were born. “I got to watch them grow up, and it’s nice to see them again,” Hamlin says.

The two cheetahs are allowed night access to their habitat, so the first task is to bring them inside so it can be cleaned and restocked. As with any task directly involving the big cats, the keepers work in pairs – a door can’t be opened without one keeper announcing the action and the second keeper replying with an “OK.”

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

When the siblings are inside, Bonde lies down next to his sister Kilima, and starts vocalizing. He’s ready for breakfast, which has been prepared the day before. The cats are weighed every two weeks, and the Zoo’s nutritionist determines how much food they’ll get. Some guests ask if our cheetahs are underfed, but these cats – with a lean body built for speed – are kept at a healthy weight.

Once the first round of food has been delivered, the keepers move into the habitats to begin cleaning. They mow every two weeks, trim bushes and trees, scrub the inside of the glass, clean any mess the animals have made, check the levels in the pool and water bowls, and set out enrichment items for the day. Enrichment is a process by which keepers enhance the animal’s environment by adding scents, toys, sounds, food, substrate and other items to encourage natural behaviors and keep them physically and mentally fit.

The cheetahs, for example, love the smell of certain human perfumes. The keepers occasionally spray it in a patch of grass, and the cheetahs will rub their faces in it and roll around. Other enrichment items include empty ostrich eggs and small hay piles once used as zebra beds. Because the keepers schedule the cats into each habitat, the food and enrichment they put out vary from day to day. The whole cleaning process can take up to two hours, including a perimeter check of the entire habitat.

Before the lions are let out in the morning, they have a quick training session, which lets the keepers check their

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they've shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they’ve shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

overall health. They may examine the cats’ teeth and feet for problems or sores, and if one is detected, they apply medication with an oversized cotton swab if necessary.

As the keepers move behind the scenes, all three constantly check and doublecheck doors and locks. “Being [obsessive] can actually be helpful, because you have to do the same thing over and over again and you can’t forget,” Squires says. The keepers also perform a “positive head count,” going into the public viewing area and locating all of the cats (two cheetahs and two lions or lionesses), confirming that they’re safe in their habitat.

The animals are good at being where they need to be. If any of the cats are a bit slow to move in the morning, the keepers encourage them by setting out more meat treats – but they never yell or touch the animals. Dallas Zoo keepers won’t punish animals for challenging behavior. Instead, they ignore the cats until appropriate behavior is observed, then the keepers respond and reward appropriately.

As demonstrated by the public training sessions, rewards always come with good behavior. “Everything we do is training for them,” Squires says. The keepers are constantly aware of how their actions are perceived or may be reinforcing to the animals. For example, if one of the lions is pawing at or banging on a door, the keepers wait until they stop banging before they open the door. If the keepers open the door when they are banging, the cats will continue to do it. So the undesired behavior is ignored, and good behavior is rewarded.

COMING UP: The gorilla habitat.

Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Enrichment, Lion, Mammals, Nutrition, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BIRTHDAY BASH! Dallas Zoo celebrates chimp & otter’s 1st birthdays

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Chimp Mshindi at 6 months old/Keeper Will Bookwalter

Chimp Mshindi at 6 months old/Keeper Will Bookwalter

Born one day apart, guest favorites Mshindi & Tasanee turn one

WHAT: Our babies are growing up! The Dallas Zoo is throwing a first birthday party bash for chimp Mshindi and Asian small-clawed otter Tasanee tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 24), and everyone’s invited. The first 100 guests at both habitats will receive a free mini-cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Join us at 10 a.m. at the decorated Kimberly-Clark Chimpanzee Forest, as we sing “Happy Birthday” while Mshindi and his eight troop members tear into a massive, chimp face-shaped birthday cake filled with his favorite treats. Shortly after at 10:45 a.m. at the Betty Moroney Norsworthy Otter Outpost, we’ll sing to Tasanee as she and her parents dive into her floating sashimi boat loaded with her favorite food.

Otter Tasanee at 3 months old gets the hang of swimming/Dallas Zoo

Otter Tasanee at 3 months old gets the hang of swimming/Dallas Zoo

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 24. Schedule:

10 a.m.: Birthday cake presentation at Chimpanzee Forest in Wilds of Africa

10:45 a.m.: Birthday cake presentation at Otter Outpost in ZooNorth

WHERE: 650 S. R.L. Thornton Freeway

WHY: Born just one day apart, Mshindi and Tasanee’s births have been major success stories for their endangered species. Asian small-clawed otter Tasanee beat the odds to survive; she needed more than 100 days of devoted care from her keepers, because single otter pups usually do not make it. Chimp Mshindi has been an integral addition to the now nine-member troop. He’s the first baby since his brother, Kona, arrived in 2009, adding a positive dynamic to the troop’s complex social structure.

 

 

 

Categories: Africa, Chimpanzee, Conservation, Enrichment, Events, Media, Otter | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sweating for the love of tigers

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It’s not every day Malayan tiger Batu searches his one-acre habitat for dozens of hidden meatballs. But when 25 volunteers spend four hours cleaning it, they get the special task of hiding his food and watching from a behind-the-scenes location as he enters to find it.

“Hiding Batu’s food was the best part,” said 16-year-old volunteer Cierra Smith-Vaughn. “The keepers said he can stand nine feet tall, so I tried to hide it as high as I could.”

Our wonderful volunteers put in much appreciated work that would have taken our zookeepers triple the amount of time to complete. Here’s the roundup:

  • Bagged 150+ 60-gallon bags of leaves
  • Filled two trailer loads full of dead bamboo
  • Wheelbarrowed in four tons of river rock to build a dry stream bed to control water erosion from the viewing building
  • Drained and cleaned the tiger pool and outside stream
  • Planted winter grass seeds

“I came because I know the keepers needed help and it’s a beautiful day,” said volunteer Caroline Moore. “I could volunteer anywhere else, but I want to be here. I love the Dallas Zoo.”

And it’s selfless volunteers like neighbors Cierra and Caroline, who drove from Fort Worth to spend their Saturday putting sweat, hard work and a lot of laughter into cleaning our tiger habitat.

The volunteers also received a behind-the-scenes tour of the tiger and otter night quarters, plus a free breakfast. For more information on becoming a Zoo volunteer, click HERE.

Volunteers remove leaves from river stream
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Categories: Enrichment, Mammals, Tigers, Volunteers, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Root Balls: An elephant delicacy

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Each morning, our five female elephants enter the Giants of the Savanna and look for their breakfast. But recently, the “Golden Girls” discovered a new treat. Temple Emanu-El, a reform Jewish synagogue in Dallas, donated nine massive red oak root balls to us after they were excavated from a building project at the temple. The root balls were scattered throughout the habitat, used as enrichment to stimulate the elephants’ natural behaviors. It gives the girls something new to explore, and guests from the temple got to see the amusing sight of them ripping apart roots with their trunks.

The root balls are delivered to the Zoo.
The root balls are delivered to the Zoo.
Ashley Allen/Dallas Zoo
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Categories: Africa, Elephant, Enrichment, Mammals | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baby otter Tasanee plays in her tub

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Even a baby otter has to learn to swim. Our Asian small-clawed otter pup, Tasanee, plays with toys and a hose in a large tub in her indoor habitat, chirping all the while. Playing in the tub is a great way for mom, Daphne, to be sure she can navigate the deeper pool in the outdoor habitat.

Categories: Enrichment, Mammals, Media, Otter | Leave a comment

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