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:
Exhibits and Experiences
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.
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.
“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.)
May 2 was Fidelity Cares Day! This annual day is all about volunteering with more than 7,000 Fidelity Investments employees giving back to local communities around the world on a single day. Almost 400 volunteers from Fidelity Investments helped with this mission of serving our community, and over 80 of them came out to the Zoo!
Multiple projects were kicked off at both the Zoo and at Fidelity’s campus. The first one was actually started by our animals. As a form of enrichment, multiple animals painted on small canvases to help stimulate their minds and bodies. Well, we turned those canvases into magnets. Fidelity volunteers painted the edges of the canvases, added an information label, and adhered magnets to the backs! There were 1,000 magnets created in total, and they will all be for sale soon at our Zoofari Market.
Volunteers also built a playhouse for the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo. Using pre-cut lumber, Fidelity employees led a team of volunteers through constructing and painting a playhouse for young Zoo guests to use their imaginations even further in play areas. Twenty-five volunteers spent 100 combined total hours building this structure for kids of all ages to enjoy.
The last project was a combined effort of Zoo and Fidelity volunteers. People on both Zoo grounds and on Fidelity’s campus worked on making faux log browse feeders. Browse are used in animal habitats to encourage them to use their natural behaviors and instincts to search for food. Volunteers distressed PVC pipes using sandpaper and rasps; added bolts to help hang the pipe; and used oil-based paint to make the pipe look like a log or a tree branch. Different types of browse will be put in the pipes before they are attached to real trees in various animal exhibits. After 85 volunteers spent a combined total of 42.5 hours, we now have 70 faux log browse feeders for the animals to enjoy.
“The Fidelity volunteers were awesome,” Julie Bates, director of volunteer services, said. “I am always amazed and inspired by hard working volunteers who give their time to help us create a better world for animals. A lot was accomplished thanks to them!”
None of the day’s accomplishments would have been possible if it were not for the Fidelity volunteers. They all spent a total of 837.5 hours working on all these projects to benefit the community and the Zoo. Thank you, Fidelity Investments! We’re already looking forward to next year’s Fidelity Cares Day!
When Earth Day rolls around, it’s a party at the Zoo! On April 21 and 22 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., our Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo is hosting Arty for the Planet. Guests can bust out ZOOmba moves with us; create upcycled musical instruments and jam; look at stunning wildlife conservation-themed chalk art by local art students; watch animals engage in art; and create your own nature-inspired art, too!
But before we kick off Earth Day celebrations, we’re inviting artists of all ages to submit an original art project using upcycled materials from April 14—18. Artwork will be judged on originality and use of upcycled materials in each age group by a panel of Dallas Zoo’s staff artists and the public.
Guests can enter into these four categories: ages 5 and under, ages 6-10, ages 11-17, and ages 18 and up. In each category, awards will be given for Peoples’ Choice (determined by Zoo-goers) and Experts’ Choice (determined by a panel of Zoo staff).
Submissions can be delivered to the Dallas Zoo Membership Services booth from April 14-18 during Zoo hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m.). Art will be on display in the Children’s Zoo for guests to vote on, and the winners will be announced and contacted on April 22. (Plus, we’ll share it on the Zoo’s Facebook page!) Winners of each category will receive a Family 4-pack of Dallas Zoo tickets. Good luck!