Exhibits and Experiences

 
 

Getting submerged in new training

Our hippos, Boipelo and Adhama, love to show off their skills during keeper chats!

Dallas Zoo Hippo Keepers Christina E. and Christine S. guest blog on ZooHoo!

We train almost every animal that calls the Zoo home. Training lets animals participate in their own care and enables staff to provide excellent animal husbandry. It can be something as simple as teaching the animal to shift from one space to another. Or as complex as training the animal to allow ultrasounds. Animals, like the hippos, can be asked to present certain body parts to keepers to facilitate routine checkups, or to open their mouths for teeth examinations and x-rays. To do this we use operant conditioning, focusing on positive reinforcement techniques. This means if the animal does the behavior we ask, they are rewarded. A reinforcement or reward can be anything the animal enjoys. Food is the most common reinforcer, but some animals prefer attention, tactile reinforcement, or their favorite enrichment item.

Keeper Christina E.
and Adhama during a recent training session.

At the Simmons Hippo Outpost, our hippos LOVE to show off trained behaviors that they have learned over the last year. During our keeper interactions, you may have seen Adhama and Boipelo opening their mouths to present their teeth, swimming across the pool, or targeting. Targeting is one of the first behaviors most animals learn because it is a good starting tool that leads to more complex behaviors. Adhama and Boipelo are asked to touch their noses to the end of the target. Their target stick is a long bamboo pole with a buoy on the end that’s lightweight and floats, making it ideal for our hippos. This behavior is typically easy to teach.  Most animals are curious by nature, so when the target is first presented they want to examine it and come closer. After they take that first step towards it, they’re rewarded. They continue to be rewarded the closer they get until finally touching the target. Once the animal learns that touching this target gets them a reward, it becomes one of their favorite behaviors.

Keeper Christine S. works with Boipelo on target training.

We recently started training some behaviors at our underwater viewing area, which brings Adhama and Boipelo so close that you just might think you’re in the water with them.  Boipelo is a pro at targeting underwater, while Adhama prefers to stay above the surface at the moment. Boipelo tends to be shyer in front of crowds and lets her boyfriend shine. Adhama definitely likes to monopolize the spotlight and will do some targeting, opening his mouth, and moving back and forth across the window.

 

In Greek, Hippopotamus means “river horse,” and they do look like graceful horses trotting in slow motion underwater. However, don’t let this fool you! Hippos are actually closest related to whales and dolphins. With this up-close view you can really examine them to see some of the similarities they have with their relatives.

The training at the underwater viewing area is still in the early stages, but the hippos and trainers are enjoying this new level of interaction. Come by Simmons Hippo Outpost to see Adhama and Boipelo in action!

Categories: Africa, Simmons Hippo Outpost, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Celebrating one year with our Somali wild ass foals

Middle Wilds of Africa keeper Laura Burleson guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

All babies grow up – and entirely too quickly! It’s hard to believe that our two critically endangered Somali Wild Ass foals, Kalila and Naima, are now a year old. In that time, they have grown, experienced, and learned so much.

From the day the foals were born (really from about five minutes after birth) they were spunky, energetic, and so full of life and personality. Their moms, Liberty and Hani, and their Aunt Qamar were born and raised in zoos, but they are still a bit wary of keepers and spook easily in new situations. We, at the Dallas Zoo, have never had the opportunity to work with Somali Wild Ass from birth, so we were really excited to have the opportunity to build a strong connection with them. This relationship building is so important since we work with our animals very closely every day – it forms the foundation for us to be able to provide enrichment to them in multiple ways throughout their lifetimes.

The first step was working on socialization with the keepers, and as with myself, the key to their hearts was through their stomachs. Once they started eating solid food, we were able to hand feed them treats through the fence, building a trust that approaching their keepers meant yummy treats were on the way! After that, we started doing small bits of work getting the foals used to being physically touched by keepers. They were very tolerant of touches on their noses, but nervous of it on any other part of their bodies. Our real challenge came this spring, when the foals were due for their annual vaccinations. We had an ambitious goal in mind: voluntary hand injections. This meant that we wanted to get the foals to a point that we could have them lined up at the fence with their hip presented, and be given their vaccinations by the vets in a way that was minimally painful and stressful for them. The most nerve-wracking part was scratching their rears to see how they would react to that touch — and we were all a bit surprised when they loved it! With a lot of hard work and patience, we successfully reached our goal and were able to give the foals all of their vaccines with zero stress and pain for them.

Our Somali Wild Ass foal enjoying an ice treat in honor of her first birthday!

When the foals were about 7 months old, we decided it was time for them to meet the other species that call the Desert exhibits home. At the Dallas Zoo, we take a lot of pride in our mixed-species exhibits. One of the best parts about having multiple species living together is that this provides a lot of mental stimulation and social enrichment. Imagine spending all your time with one group of friends…definitely not as fun as having lots of different people to interact with!

The foals met our male Ostrich, Newman, first, then the Gemsbok, and lastly the Addax herd. The Asses are, to put it nicely, giant troublemakers. The Addax also like to mess with the Asses a lot. The combination of those two personalities and some very over-protective mothers creates the potential for some major antics. Luckily, everyone very quickly learned to give each other space, and all is well in the Semi-arid world.

While the foals have quadrupled in size from birth, when I was able hold them both in my arms for their checkups, their sassy little personalities have not changed a bit. I grow more and more attached to them every day and cannot wait to continue watching them grow, learn, and develop. And maybe one day they will have foals of their own that will steal the hearts of the world, and inspire people to want to make a change for conservation in their native habitat.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Monorail Safari | Tags: , | Leave a comment
 
 

Students take talent to top photographer camp

The Zoo’s a great place for budding photographers (and experienced ones, too). Our Top Photographer summer camp gives children an opportunity to test out their wildlife photography skills in our 106-acre zoological park. Last month, a group of lucky student campers were trained by our expert staff photographer and given an up-close experience with animals. After two weeks of trekking through the Zoo and patiently waiting for just the right shot, here are some of our winning photos:

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Top Photographer: Morgan
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Categories: Education, Photography, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Creating memories one step at a time

David Bacon (left) and Joe Barentine (right) walking at the Zoo.

Did you know that if you visit the Zoo frequently enough, some of the animals may actually recognize you? Some even go beyond simple recognition and want to interact with you. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Ask Dallas Zoo member Joe Barentine and his partner, David Bacon.

“One time Joe came home and said ‘I have a new friend at the Zoo,’” said Bacon. “It was giraffe Tebogo. Joe said Tebogo followed him around, but I didn’t believe him at first.”

Until he saw it for himself.

Joe had been walking at least two days a week at the Zoo since 1991. Over the course of his routine walks, Tebogo started recognizing him. Of course when the same man walks by the same habitat at the same time of day multiple times a week, some animals—like Tebogo—pick up on it. So when David started joining Joe on his Zoo walks, he saw Tebogo spot Joe from across the mixed species habitat, walk over to him, and let Joe pet his nose, a moment he specially calls “communion.”

This isn’t the only interaction he’s had with our animals. He’s had moments range from the humorous—like when one monkey started recognizing Joe, and it tried to startle him every week by jumping out at him in its habitat—to the cathartic, like when he would look into the eyes of former hippo Papa.

“It was like he was a telepath,” said Barentine. “He could interrupt my thoughts if I had bad ones. He could very easily re-arrange my thinking. It was really therapeutic.”

What started out as exercise for Joe quickly turned into something more. Twenty-seven years ago when he found the Zoo, he just wanted a safe place in Oak Cliff to walk.

“Oak Cliff today is not the same place it was by any means,” said Barentine. “I lived close to the Zoo, so I thought ‘Why not walk at the Zoo?’ It’s got terrain, it’s safe; it has water, restrooms, and animals!”

Walking at the Zoo is now a meditative experience for Joe. As a member of the Zoo, he has the opportunity to enjoy our nature, our animals, and all it may bring multiple times a week with his partner, David. In fact, walking at the Zoo is the second longest practice Joe has had in his life.

For 30 years, Joe was involved in the practice of law. However, now that Joe is retired, that practice has come to an end. In just three more years, walking at the Dallas Zoo will be the longest single thing he will have done in his life. And from the types of experiences he’s had here, it’s easy to guess that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Categories: Exhibits and Experiences, Membership | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Dallas Zoo animals bring smiles to tiny hospital patients and beyond

A small Children’s Health patient prepares to meet a Dallas Zoo animal ambassador penguin along with Outreach Supervisor Shannon College.

Whether it’s a tamandua high up in the sky at Reunion Tower or penguins at a Texas Rangers ballgame, you never quite know where the Dallas Zoo’s Animal Adventures outreach team will go next. With just seven staff members, the team carries out nearly 1,000 animal outreach programs a year across North Texas, bringing animal encounters to places like, schools, hospitals, businesses, convention centers, and many iconic Dallas locations.

When the small staff is not on the road, they’re tending to the needs of the 40 educational ambassador animals that delight, inspire and educate those attending an outreach experience. The job sounds demanding, however for Animal Adventures outreach team manager, Allyssa Leslie, the well-being of the ambassador animals remains top priority, “We work hard to ensure our animals feel safe and comfortable traveling with us. It’s great to see that when we go out to these events, the animals choose to come out with us because they know they’re safe and it’s interesting for them to go to new places.”

Despite all the variety this team experiences, some trips are so special that they’re repeated over and over again. Thanks to the Simmons Animal Safari program, and a treasured partnership with Children’s Health established in 2014, the outreach team returns to the hospital every few months to provide magical up-close animal encounters to small patients overcoming big obstacles.

The outreach team, including two-toed sloth Lola and African penguin duo, Sid and Jazz, arrive with the humble goal of encouraging smiles while gifting a special experience to those families who have more on their plate than planning a trip to the Zoo at this time.

Excitement filled the room as the children enjoyed the animals on stage.

“Even for the children that cannot physically come down to see the presentation, Children’s Health broadcasts the program into their rooms so they can enjoy it as well,” Leslie shares of the experience, “We are glad to be able to go out and hopefully bring some joy and fun memories for the patients and their families.”

Following the animal presentation, families are encouraged to come up close and commemorate the experience with a photo with an animal ambassador. Leslie watches on as the patients eagerly line up to have their moment at the front of the stage, “It’s so wonderful to see the excitement on the kids and their families’ faces when they get to see the animals so close!” she gushes.

At the close of the presentation, one last parting gift is revealed, each family is given tickets as a standing invitation to visit the Dallas Zoo. We look forward to many future visits to Children’s Health, bringing enjoyment to these extraordinary kids and their families with each animal encounter.

(Interested in hosting an Animal Adventures outreach program? Click here for more information.)

Categories: Education, Events, Penguins, Wild Encounters | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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