Sweating for the love of tigers

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

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

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

Growing green: feeding animals and guests

Organic lettuce, tomatoes, basil, radishes, cabbage, green beans – it’s what’s for lunch at the Zoo, for our guests and our animals. With the help of Dallas County’s Master Gardeners, we’re harvesting nutrient-rich produce to feed our four- and two-legged friends.

Across our 106-acre property, we’ve planted multiple dietary supplemental gardens for our animals, as well as bulk “browse gardens” filled with woody plants for our large herbivores. And to feed our guests, we have an organic chef’s garden used to create lunch specials at Prime Meridian Cafe in ZooNorth.

“It can’t get any fresher than this. Other vegetables 10 miles away are transported on a truck, burning fossil fuels. We’re reducing our carbon footprint,” said Randy Johnson, horticulture manager. “Most people can’t even eat all organic, and we’re giving it to our animals.”

Every week after the animal produce is harvested, it’s sent to our state-of-the-art Animal Nutrition Center (ANC) for processing, cleaning, and measuring. “The produce grown on-site makes us so much more appreciative of what we’re serving our animals,” said Aaron Bussell, nutrition supervisor. “And it’s very beneficial to our zookeepers. They have more variety to offer the animals.”

With thousands of animal mouths to feed each day, totaling more than 20,000 pounds of food weekly, Bussell says any amount of produce grown on-site helps. “It’s one less case of food a week of 60 cases we’re sending out to our animals. We’re starting small, but it’s already making an impact,” he said.

Future plans include planting another half-dozen organic gardens on zoo grounds. Plus, a special treat is in store for our giraffes, zebras, and elephants – insert brag – since we are the only zoo in the U.S. to incorporate these majestic animals into one habitat. Soon the entire back perimeter of the Giants of the Savanna habitat will be lined with woody browse, including one of their favorite snacks – red tip photinia, Johnson says.

For the human mouths, our executive chef, Dan Bevis, and sous chef, Jacob Hunter, are incorporating delicious veggies into your meals, too. Every other day, they’re out in their 400-square-foot garden, watering and harvesting produce.

“It’s not just hamburgers and hotdogs at the Zoo,” Bevis said. “We’re creating unique, fresh and organic dishes every day. We take a lot of pride in our garden – watching it grow gives me an incredible amount of pleasure.”

And it’s that passion and commitment to fresh ingredients that is changing our guest’s perceptions of zoo food every day – from daily specials in Prime Meridian, to catered events such as company picnics.

And we couldn’t do it without the tremendous help from Dallas County’s Master Gardeners, who are here weekly keeping our gardens green and giving.

Woody plants for our large herbivores grow near the elephant barn.
Woody plants for our large herbivores grow near the elephant barn.
Dallas Zoo/Ashley Allen
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Categories: Conservation, Enrichment, Horticulture, Nutrition | Leave a comment

Naked sheep roaming at the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo

With bikini season in full swing, our four resident sheep have shed a few pounds – 8 pounds of wool, to be exact.

Mary, Matha, Alice, and Herbert look a little lighter than usual in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo farmyard. To keep them cool and comfortable during warmer months and to prevent their hair from covering their eyes, they are carefully sheared twice a year. Summer temperatures have been known to get as high as 110 degrees in Dallas, and that’s too warm if you’re wearing a wool coat.

But it’s not as easy as getting a haircut. Each sheep was bathed with a special lanolin shampoo a day before so its thick wool could dry completely before shearing. With the help of our Junior Zookeepers, all of the dirt, pine shavings, and hay that had hibernated into their wool was removed. The next day, one by one, the sheep were brought into the barn for a gentle trimming with electric clippers. Unlike commercial farms, where shearing is done quickly, our staff takes their time to ensure that it’s a good experience for the animals.

Ours also don’t have as much wool as other species of sheep, because they’re one of the smallest breeds, often called miniatures. Known as Babydoll Southdown sheep, they’re one of the oldest English breeds, originating in the South Down hills of Sussex County, England. And they produce some of the best wool — their fleece is so fine, it’s put into the class of cashmere.

Of course, we never want to see anything go to waste. “We give the wool to other animals in the Zoo as part of enrichment,” zookeeper Sarah Brys said. “They can smell it, play with it, just get a sense of another animal’s coat.”

Sheep Mary relaxes after her shearing; Alice waits for her turn.
Sheep Mary relaxes after her shearing; Alice waits for her turn.
Dallas Zoo/Ashley Allen
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Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Enrichment, Exhibits and Experiences, Mammals, Volunteers, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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