Exhibits and Experiences

THEY’RE HERE! Dallas Zoo welcomes hippos back for first time in 16 years

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Male Adhama (left) and female Boipelo (right) play hard in their pools. (Photos courtesy of L.A. Zoo and ABQ BioPark)

The Dallas Zoo welcomed a very special delivery this week: two super-sized Nile hippopotamuses arrived Tuesday and Wednesday from Albuquerque, N.M., and Los Angeles. Adhama and Boipelo are now sharing the spacious barn and pools in our new $14 million Simmons Hippo Outpost, set to open next month.

“The moves were smooth and uneventful, and our new residents have settled in nicely into their new home,” said Harrison Edell, vice president of Animal Operations and Welfare at the Dallas Zoo.

Six-year-old male Adhama arrived Tuesday morning from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. The 3,722-pound hippo was loaded safely into a massive custom travel crate on an 18-wheeler Monday for the 23-hour drive. The tandem driver team drove straight through, stopping often to feed, water, and spray water on the giant amphibious animal.

Once Adhama’s travel crate was lifted off the truck and taken to the spacious new hippo barn, he wandered right out and into a sand-filled outdoor yard. Keepers met him with crisp fresh romaine lettuce and other treats. The big guy inspected every inch of the barn, room by room, before taking a snuffling drink from one of the indoor pools. Soon after, he slipped into his private pool. (The amphibious animals often choose to spend up to 16 hours a day in water.)

The driver team then hit the road again, this time to Albuquerque, N.M. At the Albuquerque Biological Park, zookeepers carefully repeated the loading process with 10-year-old, 2,395-pound female Boipelo, and the drivers took off once more for Dallas. Late Wednesday night, less than 36 hours after Adhama arrived, Boipelo made her grand entrance.

After stepping out of her travel crate, she cautiously made a few rounds of the outdoor yard, then entered the night quarters, nabbed a few bites of romaine lettuce, and immediately plunged into her pool.

Adhama was instantly interested in his new mate, leaving his pool and sniffing the air intently. The pair have been matched on a breeding recommendation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP).

“Over the next 30 days while the hippos are in quarantine, our keepers, veterinary staff and nutritionists will keep a close eye on them to ensure they continue to do well,” Edell said. “For now they’re living in separate halves of the new barn, but because of its open design, they’ve already ‘met’ each other through the fences and are getting along well.”

The 2.1-acre Simmons Hippo Outpost is an immersive African waterhole habitat that includes a 24-foot by 8-foot underwater viewing area, which will allow zookeepers to teach guests about conservation efforts to help protect the world’s third-largest land mammal.

Papa, who passed away in 2001 at age of 53, was the last hippo to live at the zoo until now. At the time, Papa was the oldest Nile hippo being cared for in a U.S. zoo.

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Hippo, hippo, hurray! Meet Adhama and Boipelo, our first hippos in 16 years

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Texas may be known for horses and cowboys, but a couple of new “river horses” that soon will call the Dallas Zoo home won’t be seeing any saddles or lassos.

Adhama eats some greens at the L.A. Zoo./Courtesy L.A. Zoo

Adhama eats some greens at the L.A. Zoo./Courtesy L.A. Zoo

That’s because they’re hippopotamuses!

Adhama, a 6-year-old male from the Los Angeles Zoo, and Boipelo, a 10-year-old female hailing from the Albuquerque Biological Park, will be the first hippos at the Zoo in more than 16 years.

Through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), these two Nile hippos are being paired on a breeding recommendation in hopes that one day they’ll start their own family.

They’ll share shiny, new state-of-the-art digs here in Dallas. Set to open late April, the Dallas Zoo’s $14 million, 2.1-acre Simmons Hippo Outpost will be an immersive African waterhole habitat, including an underwater viewing window for visitors.

So let us introduce our newest residents:

Born Jan. 26, 2011, at the San Diego Zoo, Adhama moved to the L.A. Zoo in 2013, where he met female companion Mara. The duo welcomed their daughter Rosie on Halloween 2014.

Rita Huang, assistant supervisor of the Dallas Zoo’s Inner Wilds of Africa, recently traveled to Los Angeles, where she got to meet the 3,722-pound Adhama and learn about his personality, training behaviors, likes/dislikes, if he’s a diehard L.A. Dodgers fan or willing to convert to the Texas Rangers, and much more.

“Adhama is a sweet boy,” Huang said. “He’s very curious, likes to climb, and enjoys a nice face-rub from his keepers. He also loves to sleep under the sun, and is very particular about the temperature of his water.”

Fascinating fact: Adhama has three half-sisters, all with the same mom but different dads. Those females are the great-granddaughters of the Dallas Zoo’s former hippos, Mama and Papa! Mama passed away in 1984, and Papa died in 2001 at age 53. At the time, Papa was the oldest Nile hippo being cared for in a U.S. zoo. And he was the last hippo to live at the Dallas Zoo, until now.

Boipelo bites down on an enrichment item at the Albuquerque Biological Park./Courtesy of ABQ BioPark

Boipelo bites down on an enrichment item at the Albuquerque Biological Park./Courtesy of ABQ BioPark

Born Aug. 17, 2006, Boipelo lives with her mom, dad and younger brother at the ABQ BioPark.

“This 2,395-pound girl is extremely playful,” Huang said. “She enjoys dragging logs around her habitat and pushing her ball around. She’s also very particular about her enrichment items. In the morning, keepers say they’ll come in to find that she’s placed all her objects back in the same spot in the barn.”

These super-social animals will meet within days after arriving in Dallas.

Welcome the duo to Texas and show ’em your favorite local spots. Print out and color this hippo coloring sheet, and snap a picture with your “flat hippo” at your beloved spots throughout DFW. Tag your “flat hippo” photos on social media with the hashtag #DallasZooHippos and we’ll pick a few of our favorite photos to feature!

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Mammals, Simmons Hippo Outpost | 2 Comments

Pint-sized Texas Longhorns delighting Children’s Zoo guests

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It may not be the Starship Enterprise, but the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo is the perfect home for the newest animal additions: Captain and Kirk. These two miniature Texas longhorns are settling in nicely to their home and guests couldn’t be happier.

Miniature longhorns are a relatively new breed and came about through selective breeding of full-sized longhorns. These smaller longhorns are gentle and docile, making them the perfect addition to the Children’s Zoo.

The minis joined us in November, but until just recently were nameless as they integrated into the Children’s Zoo and began working with keepers. Former U.S. Trade Representative and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk remedied that situation.

IMG_6427Kirk, a former Zoo board member and long-time supporter, won the naming rights to the longhorns at the Zoo To Do gala late last year. Kirk enlisted his daughters to help name the calves. And he admits he’s never seen an episode of Star Trek.

The minis are eight months old and weigh 200-250 pounds. Fully grown, they’ll weight 400-500 pounds and stand up to four feet tall. For now, their signature horns are more like stubs, but over the next two years they’ll grow and have similar proportions to their full-size longhorn brethren.

Guests can see Captain (he’s the larger of the two with mostly black hair) and Kirk at the Children’s Zoo red barn. Those that want an up-close encounter with Captain and Kirk should sign up for the new Junior Rancher Adventure program, where they’ll get to interact with and feed the longhorns.

Live long and prosper, Captain and Kirk!

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Tunnel into the world of naked mole rats

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Did you know naked mole rats can run as fast backwards as they can forwards?

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Dallas Zoo’s Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo is the Underzone, which hosts two colonies of naked mole rats. Our keeper, Joby Davidson, gives us the inside scoop on what makes these tiny, hairless rodents so fascinating and important. In Davidson’s words, “Naked mole rats are not moles and not rats, but they are naked.”

Despite looking a little too naked for some folks, these fascinating creatures seem to break the mold in just about every way.

Why they’re important:

In the wild, they call sub-Saharan Africa home, where they provide essential ecosystem services, such as being a part of the local food chain and digging tunnels that help irrigate the land during rare rainfalls. They’re also becoming increasingly important for research in cancer, osteoporosis, joint studies and Alzheimer’s disease, because a complex sugar produced in their body makes them cancer-resistant. They could be holding the secret to the fountain of youth! Interested yet?

Take me to your leader!

Naked mole rats have a very complex social hierarchy, similar to ants and bees. This is the most defining aspect of how they DON’T fit the mold for most rodents. Each colony has one queen and one or two mating males, and the rest of the members are divided into different levels of workers, including diggers, food-movers, and warriors.

Additionally, age is an important factor in rank – older ones hold more authority. For example, while moving around in their tunnels, they constantly have to figure out how to get around each other if they’re going opposite ways. The solution? Whoever is subordinate passes below, while the superior crawls over.

Here’s another interesting behavior observed in naked mole rat colonies: if an older mole rat sees a younger one doing miserably at its job, it will tug on the younger one’s tail as if to say, “Just let me do it.” The younger one gets the message and scurries away while the older one takes over, presumably grumbling about “kids these days.naked-mole-rats-from-cloud

At the top of the chain, the queen runs the show. She is the only female with a specific scent (or pheromone) that lets the rest of the colony know she’s the one with breeding rights. A queen is typically pregnant for an average of 79 days and has a litter of 10-15 babies (or pups). It’s possible for her to get pregnant again as soon as 10 days after giving birth (count me out!), but the average is four to five months between pregnancies. In the wild, populations grow quickly because breeding can happen at a rapid pace, but it’s possible that naked mole rats may regulate their own population, because most colonies even out at about 75 members.

On that note, we’re leading the way in experimenting with birth control for naked mole rats. Because they breed so often and have relatively large litters, population control helps us keep track of how many mouths there are to feed and ensure that our colonies are a comfortable size.

We began this research more than two years ago, treating the queen with annual birth control. One of the biggest questions was whether she would continue to produce the pheromone that asserted her “nobility,” and if not, would another female step up and take the role?

It seems to be working so far. “The queen still acts like the queen in every way, except for breeding,” Davidson explains.

Who’s who?

Currently, the Dallas Zoo has two separate colonies. The first and largest colony began from a single breeding pair and now boasts 47 members. The second sprouted off from the first in a situation where a second female challenged the queen and attempted a takeover. We quickly separated them, and she became queen of a new colony all her own, with 21 members.

With so many members, how do we keep track of each animal? Microchips! We began a microchipping program six years ago. Although zookeeper Davidson says he doesn’t know each of them individually, he’s pretty adept at picking out queens and several other notable members of the clan.

The only “cold-blooded” rodent

Here’s your vocabulary word for the day: naked mole rats are poikilothermic. This means they are incapable of maintaining their body temperature and are essentially “cold-blooded.”

They build several levels of chambers of varying depth, so the higher chambers are warmer than the lower ones. Our residents have separate enclosures that mimic those chambers, with varying levels of temperature. On average, we keep the temperature around 85° degrees, with about 70% humidity.

Homey habits

Several other techniques keep our naked mole rats thriving. Tunnels connect their different chambers. These tunnels have to be replaced fairly often though because naked mole rats’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, like most other rodents. These teeth are on the outside of their mouths, placed in a way that they can use them to dig their tunnels, but be able to close their lips so they don’t ingest dirt. Since their teeth grow constantly, the’re always busy wearing them down on their exhibit and tunnel walls.

Besides chewing on the walls, naked mole rats are exceptionally civil little beings. They have special bathroom chambers that are used only to collect waste. Sounds familiar, right? (Disregard if you still dig holes in the yard.) It gets a little weird after that, though. Naked mole rats are very close to blind, so they rub their own urine on themselves after using the bathroom as a way to distinguish themselves by smell.

Threats to naked mole rats

Although the current wild populations of naked mole rats seem to be pretty healthy, increasing droughts are likely to make it difficult for them to find the bulbs and roots they need to feed the colony. They are likely to establish colonies on farms, where they feast on cassava and sweet potatoes. If farmers perceive them as pests, they may double their efforts to get rid of the wrinkly rodents.

What you can do to help naked mole rats

Since the change in weather patterns worldwide is greatly influenced by the amount of heat-trapping gases in the air, we can help protect naked mole rats and other African animals in the comfort of our own homes. Reducing our energy use can have a positive impact on wildlife. Weatherizing your home, unplugging electronics, taking short showers are all easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint. You can also join the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Action team to get involved in local, hands-on conservation efforts.

If you’re interested in meeting a queen, but can’t quite foot the bill to take a trip to England, come visit the Underzone in the Lacerte Children’s Zoo instead, and see for yourself the fascinating world of naked mole rats.

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Dallas Zoo, city unveil new elephant-statue gateway

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Connecticut-based artist Peter Busby stands with his sculpture Two Elephants Greeting at the Dallas Zoo on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.

Visitors will now receive a taste of Africa before stepping on Zoo grounds with Two Elephants Greeting, a new steel sculpture unveiled today at the corner of Marsalis Ave. and the I-35E frontage road.

The sculpture joins our iconic 67-foot giraffe sculpture greeting visitors entering the Zoo’s main parking lot.

The sculpture shows two larger-than-life African elephants with intertwined trunks – a symbol of a solid, loving bond, and a greeting often seen expressed by our elephants. The elephants stand on a berm surrounded by drought-tolerant native grasses and plants.

“It will greet all visitors that come to the Zoo in a monumental way,” said Kay Kallos, Public Art Program manager for the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.

The sculptures weigh 1,800 pounds each and are the work of Connecticut-based artist Peter Busby. The installation is part of a City of Dallas Public Art Program contest that received more than 200 sculpture designs from all over the world vying for the space, which formerly housed a used car lot.

“It seemed as a friendly introduction to the zoo,” said Busby. “Like what you hope to see inside.”

Busby created the elephants at his Connecticut workshop before hauling them to Texas in September for the installation, but this isn’t his first time bringing massive sculptures to the Lone Star State. He also designed and installed two 16-foot-tall longhorn sculptures at the Cypress Waters office park in Dallas and a pair of supersized horses at a ranch in Plano.

Thank you to Busby and the City of Dallas for giving us such a life-size representation of love between African elephants. We look forward to enjoying the statues for decades to come.

Categories: Exhibits and Experiences, Horticulture | 2 Comments

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