A hugely successful year with AAZK

Russell Pharr, elephant keeper and president of the American Association of Zookeepers Dallas chapter, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

IMG_6203 SFRTwenty-sixteen was a very successful year for the Dallas American Association of Zookeepers Chapter!  We hosted a huge range of great events and, while having an amazing time, helped make the world a better place for animals.

Join us as we take a look back at 2016:

Bowling and Sailing for Rhinos

IMG_6113 SFRThis was our 25th year participating in the 26-year-old Bowling for Rhinos program, and our fifth year partnering with Alley Cats in Arlington.  In addition to bowling, arcade games, miniature golf, and laser tag, we debuted a BFR photo booth, had a bowling pin decorating contest for the second consecutive year, and hosted our first-ever takeover on Dallas Zoo’s Facebook to help promote the event!

Most importantly, Bowling for Rhinos in Dallas raised $18,000 – 100% of which goes directly to save rhinos, cheetahs, and other animals in Kenya and Indonesia. Nationally, AAZK chapters in the U.S. and Canada raised over $600,000 – an all-time record!

Our one-of-a-kind Sailing for Rhinos event raised $6,000 to help AAZK causes. We continued our partnership with Corinthian Sailing Club and had great weather once again for one of our favorite events.

Labor Day Book Sale

Our annual book sale broke records this year, raising more than $2,000 over three days of selling used books, DVDs, and other items donated by the Dallas Zoo community. Profits were split between the Okapi Conservation Project (the okapi was our 2016 “featured animal,” decided by a staff vote in our second annual AAZK March Madness contest) and the Bat World Sanctuary in Weatherford, Texas. Our book sale continued a partnership between Dallas AAZK and the Zoo’s Enrichment Committee as we sold animal-painted magnets and bookmarks, and allowed us the perfect platform to introduce tote bags with our chapter logo printed on them!

Painting with a TwistOther Conservation Events

Our first-ever painting event, the Painting With a Twist for World Giraffe Day in June, not only raised $1,300 for the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, but also provided a fun way to honor the memory of Dallas Zoo’s own, late Kipenzi.

Our first-ever Salamander Saturday event in May helped raise funds and awareness for some of nature’s less-appreciated creatures. Our contributed funds also helped the Foundation for Conservation of Salamanders to offer a Texas-specific grant for researchers working on salamanders (and we have some amazing endemic species here)! Read more »

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All-Zoo baseball squad ready for MLB playoffs

The Texas Rangers begin their quest for the World Series today, and in honor of their great year, we’ve assembled the best-of-the best baseball squad made up of Dallas Zoo residents. (Maybe after they win the Series, we’ll challenge them to a friendly.)

Meet your squad:


Starting Pitchers: Chimpanzees

Old, young, strong, agile, smart. Our chimpanzees have the skills to excel on the mound, honed by hurling coconuts into the rocks to crack them open.


Catcher: African white-backed vulture
With a wingspan exceeding six feet, these birds won’t let any ball by.


First Base: Elephants
At first base, a long reach is a great asset. Our African elephants would use their trunks to snag every ball thrown their way, no matter how erratic its path.

Second Base: Tebogo
Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor sometimes leaps to snag a liner, but that won’t be an issue with our reticulated giraffe Tebogo manning second base. He’s 16 feet tall.


Shortstop: Butter
What our famed reticulated python lacks in height, she makes up in length. Butter is 19 feet long, which is useful for catching ground balls while keeping a tail on second (or even third) base.


 Third Base: Goat
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is often called a GOAT (greatest of all time) because of his on-field antics. The only antics our goat show off is munching the infield grass until it’s bare.

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Outfielders: Winspear, Amani & the vulturine guineafowl
Baseball outfielders have to cover a lot of ground in a hurry, so the stars of our cheetah encounter make the perfect squad to roam the outfield. Cheetah Winspear; his black lab buddy, Amani; and the flock of zippy guineafowl will use speed to chase down deep-hit baseballs.


Designated hitter: Obi
Our high-energy mandrill can swing and throw a stick better than anyone else at the Dallas Zoo, making him a perfect designated hitter to drive in baserunners.

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Relief Pitchers: Cat row
Our cougars, bobcat and ocelots spend much of their day snoozing, but when they’re called upon (like at dinnertime), these cats can get up and loose in a hurry – just like relief pitchers.


Closer: Gibbon
Rangers closer Sam Dyson visited the Dallas Zoo over the All-Star break and may have found his spirit animal in the gibbons. With long arms and a fuzzy mane like Dyson, we’d put the ball in the hands of our gibbons with a close game on the line in the ninth.

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Da-dum. Da-dum. It’s Shark Day at Children’s Aquarium again!

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It’s that time of year when sharks are top of mind – people flock to seashores, and Shark Week takes over our TVs. Our affiliated partner, the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park, will celebrate accordingly with its second annual Shark Day this Saturday, June 25, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Special programs about sharks, activities and giveaways are included with aquarium admission. Aquarists will reveal all in special chats at the shark and stingray tanks. And you can watch a shark feeding, touch shark-related biofacts, feed stingrays, score a pack of baseball cards featuring resident sharks, and more. Most importantly, learn why sharks are so important to ocean ecosystems, and what you can do to protect them.

Unfortunately, of the shark species on which scientists have been able to collect sufficient data, nearly 50% are at serious risk . We know what you’re thinking – aren’t sharks some of the most savage sea-dwellers? What could possibly threaten them?

The answer is closer than you think – it’s us. Humans are the No. 1 threat to sharks and rays living in the wild. While some sharks are hunted intentionally, much of the damage is caused simply by humans invading the ocean irresponsibly. There is some good news; if we are the problem, we can also be the solution.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to help save sharks and other species that call the ocean home is to eat sustainable seafood. Some fishermen use non-selective nets that catch just about anything in their way, including sharks. SAFESharkPhotoCertain nets also can drag on the ocean floor and cause serious damage to underwater habitats. Other times, too many of one species is pulled from the ocean at one time, and not enough are left in the wild to reproduce and sustain a healthy population.

Seafood harvested sustainably means it is acquired with the health of the ocean in mind. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch is an excellent resource to check before purchasing or eating seafood – check the website, or download the app.

As you explore the underwater world and experience sharks and rays firsthand on Shark Day, remember that our fish friends need your help. Make a pledge at our Shark Day conservation station to only eat sustainable seafood. As we say at the Zoo and Children’s Aquarium, “If it’s not sustainable, we won’t bite!”

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Dallas Zoo hosts special day for individuals with autism

IMG_6789-Connect MagazineIn honor of April’s Autism Awareness Month, we’re hosting a special day Sunday, April 24, from 8-11 a.m. for individuals with autism, their families, and anyone who may benefit from a sensory-friendly experience. *Update: Registration for this event has closed. 

Designed with autistic needs in mind, experiences at the zoo will include a sensory activity tour featuring hands-on activities focused on primates, reptiles, and invertebrates. Modifications around the zoo will include sound adjustments and quiet zones to create an enjoyable environment.

Adding extra consideration, Education staff will send families a “social story” one week prior to Sensory-Friendly Day, which includes photos and captions outlining their upcoming day at the zoo. Participants also will receive a parent tip sheet with suggested items to bring, and specific details on the event.

“Animal encounters have proven to reduce social stress in people with autism, and we know our zoo can be that unique outlet for these individuals,” said Marti Copeland, Dallas Zoo’s director of Education. “We’re preparing our participants a week in advance for activities they can expect – we want them to be successful in this special day.”

We’re teaming up with Dr. Tina Fletcher, Ph.D., OT, of Texas Woman’s University School of Occupational Therapy to provide training to all zoo staff and to help with activities the day of the event. Dr. Fletcher is committed to improving access to cultural arts and entertainment venues for children with special needs and their families.

“When we all work together to provide children and their families with an exciting, meaningful, and sensory-friendly experience, they have an opportunity to participate in a great community event while enriching their quality of life,” said Fletcher, who will attend Sensory-Friendly Day with her team of occupational therapy students.

Admission for participants is only $5 and free for zoo members. (Guests are welcome to stay all day in the park.) Sensory-friendly activities in ZooNorth include frog slime creation; making animal prints in kinetic sand; a rainforest smelling activity; animal pelt matching; drawing station; and a nature-themed bingo game.

Quiet zones, located in the zoo’s auditorium and across from Primate Place, will include darker lighting, bean bags and blankets.

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Bye-bye, bricks!

As April kicks off, we’re gearing up for the final days of Nature Connects®! Tens of thousands of you have seen Sean Kenney’s sculptures, inspired by the natural world and created from about 750,000 LEGO® bricks. And there’s still time to check them out, but the last day is April 10.

We’ve rounded up the top Nature Connects activities and events to make the most of your visit (and remember, it’s included with Zoo admission):

  • Master Model Builder at the Stay and Play Brickyard: A master model builder and staff from LEGOLAND Discovery Center DFW will be at their Stay and Play Brickyard this Saturday and Sunday (April 2-3). Help us create a giant mosaic of our famous giraffe statue – the tallest statue in Texas! We’ll be working on the mosaic from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. both days – you can help build the Dallas Zoo masterpiece, or build your own creations in the brickyard. All day Saturday, lucky mosaic-building participants will score a free pair of tickets to LEGOLAND Discovery Center DFW.

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  • Family building activities: During the final weekends of the exhibit from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., our Education department is offering special, drop-in programs near the exhibit to build with bricks and connect with nature. This weekend (April 2-3), create a 2D mosaic of your favorite animals, similar to Sean Kenney’s ant hill mosaic in Nature Connects. We’ll provide animal photos as inspiration. Next weekend (April 9-10), build your favorite bug and learn about the importance of insects in our world.

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  • Robotics workshop with LEGO bricks: We’re partnering with Zaniac Learning Center for special robotics workshops this Saturday and Sunday (April 2-3). Guests ages 8-13 will build robotics based on their favorite animal and learn how nature influences our world. Classes are offered both days from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. Preregistration is required by Friday, April 1.

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  • Nature Connects activity sheet: Stop by the Information Booth or Guest Services to pick up a map and interactive guide to Nature Connects. See an overview of where you can find each sculpture, paired with question about each one. Look closely at each sculpture to answer questions like what tools the grandfather and grandchild gardeners are using, or the number of legs on an insect.

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Special thanks to you for exploring the exhibit, snapping sculpture selfies, and blowing our minds with your creative building in the Brickyard! Additional thanks to all our sponsors: Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District, LEGOLAND Discovery Center DFW, Britain Family, Greater TEXAS Federal Credit Union, McDonald’s of Greater North Texas, Orkin Commercial Services, Thompson & Knight Foundation, as well as sculptures in honor of Emily Frances and Hannah Grace, and Joan Walne and her beloved grandchildren, Will, Lucy, Mary Kate, Brett, Charlie, and Jack.

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