Exhibits and Experiences

All About Sebastian

Sebastian meets Sunny the radiated tortoise behind the scenes at Wild Encounters.

Animal Encounter Specialist, Samantha K. guest blogs on ZooHoo!

Like all staff at the Wild Encounters stage, I see many different faces each day. I always find it incredibly special when I start to recognize the faces of members who come to the zoo a few times a week, or those Zoo patrons who stay at the stage for multiple shows in a row. A young man named Sebastian was one of the first special patrons I began to notice time and again at the Wild Encounters stage. He was always so enthusiastic, had the best questions to ask me, and seemed to absorb every word I said. He even requested for me to give a presentation or two before the start of the summer months!

I really did not see much of Sebastian during the hot season and missed his enthusiasm. He and his mother returned to the Zoo about a week ago, much to my delight. During this visit, I was able to find out a little bit more about why they had been gone during the summer.

6-year-old Sebastian has a very rare and severe case of Hirschsprung’s Disease. It affects his pancreas, liver, large and small intestines, causing him to be on many transplant lists. Sebastian is often seen carrying around a backpack that administers his medications, which is one of the reasons I was quickly able to recognize him every time he came to the stage during his visits. When we learned about his condition, we wanted to give him the opportunity to learn even more about the animals he sees when he comes to the stage, and to get up-close and personal.

Sebastian and his mother with Sam K. and Ziggy the eagle owl at the Wild Encounters stage.

Sebastian, along with his mother and grandmother, came back to the Zoo a couple of days later and we were able to treat him to a behind-the-scenes experience in our VIP area. Sporting his awesome cheetah conservation shirt, Sebastian was able to learn all about some of the amazing animals often featured on the Wild Encounters stage. He met Indy the savanna monitor and learned about their amazing tongues, Ziggy the Eurasian eagle Owl and their large size, and one of his personal favorites, Sunny the radiated tortoise. We complimented his choice in attire, and he said that his mom told him he could purchase one thing while visiting the zoo, and he picked the cheetah shirt for conservation!

It was an incredible opportunity to connect with someone and make a difference in their lives by doing what I love to do here at the Dallas Zoo. I learned more about Sebastian that day, and I am happy that he’s not just another face in the crowd. We always hope to impact our visitors every day with how they can create a better world for animals, but they might not realize just how much they impact us, too.

If you want to learn more about Sebastian, his family has an Instagram and Facebook account dedicated to his journey. You can find them here:

Instagram: @aboutsebastian
Facebook: All About Sebastian

Categories: Wild Encounters | Leave a comment

Boipelo update: a Q&A with mammal supervisor Megan L.

Boipelo has been adjusting well after the loss of her companion, Adhama.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received in the past two weeks since Adhama’s sudden passing. Many of you have reached out with questions about how Boipelo has been adjusting, so we sat down with Megan L. (Dallas Zoo mammal supervisor, and one of our primary hippo keepers) to give you an update.

In general, how has Boipelo been feeling and behaving since Adhama’s passing?

She is an incredibly strong and resilient animal. But she has just been a little bit slower to do things that she would’ve done faster in Adhama’s company. Boipelo is a shy individual as it is, so she is just taking a little longer to feel confident in certain situations. With Adhama, she would pretty much encourage him to do everything before her. It was always: “You go check out that enrichment device/toy/new snack first.” And that goes back to hippos’ group mentality. The dominant animals will typically have other members of the group check things out first, to be sure they’re safe.

She’s doing great at interacting with us during training sessions and keeper chats. We train for husbandry behaviors – like ultrasounds and other routine medical procedures – that allow our animals to voluntarily participate in their own healthcare.

We’ve also seen her on the monitors at night playing with her favorite giant ball. She’ll push it back and forth in her pool behind the scenes. And she’s maintained a consistent appetite and normal feeding schedule throughout this time. These behaviors indicate to us that she’s adjusting and doing well.

How have keeper interactions with her changed?

She has a team of at least four people that work with her regularly, and she interacts extremely well with all of us. Relationship-building takes time, especially with her since she is naturally shy. That makes it really rewarding when you get those positive reactions from her though. And she’s getting a lot of extra attention. Yesterday, she was laying down, and we got down next to her and she was vocalizing and seemed excited to have that interaction and connection with us in that moment. She is getting lots of treats and attention from all of her keepers.

What kinds of things did you do to make sure Boipelo was doing well in those first days after Adhama’s death?

We wanted her routine to be as normal as possible. We did go out to her behind-the-scenes habitat and interact with her a bit more in those first few days, just to try to make her feel comfortable. She didn’t engage with the offer of interaction with us every time. But we wanted to give her plenty of opportunity for attention if she wanted it.

How are you and Adhama’s other keepers dealing with his loss personally?  

We’re animal professionals. Loss is a part of our job, because that’s part of the circle of life. It’s always hard. He was very charming and one of those animals that was such a joy to be around. We’ll never be able to forget him, and of course we wouldn’t want to. But the focus is now on caring for our other animals, including Boipelo, which makes it easier to keep going.

One thing that has helped us is seeing the public sharing pictures and memories of him – it reminds us how much he meant to people. He used to go to the glass and just hang out with guests. That was so “him” – giving a part of himself to the public, and it was a really magical thing. Think about all the zoo animals…which ones respond and seem to interact with guests like that? They don’t have to do that. But Adhama did.

We also SO appreciate everyone’s kind words of support during this time. It means so much to us to read all of the comments on social media – they have really touched us and made us feel so supported.

Will the Dallas Zoo bring in another hippo as a companion for Boipelo?

That’s the plan, but the time frame is still to be determined. We’re in no rush. In time, we’ll work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Hippo Species Survival Plan team to try to identify a potential companion for our Boipelo.

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Simmons Hippo Outpost, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo devastated by sudden loss of male hippo Adhama

Adhama’s sudden passing has shaken the Dallas Zoo family.

Dallas Zoo is saddened to announce that 7-year-old male hippo Adhama passed away suddenly on Tuesday evening.

The hippo keepers and our veterinary team had been monitoring Adhama’s health since late last week, after observing some lethargy and a diminished appetite. Adhama spent Monday and Tuesday behind the scenes under observation and resting, but there was nothing to indicate a serious issue. After hours on Tuesday evening, keepers observed via closed-circuit video that Adhama seemed to be non-responsive, and our animal care team responded immediately. Unfortunately, the team found that he had passed away suddenly with no external signs of stress or trauma.

Preliminary findings from the veterinary team indicate severe enteritis, which is an acute inflammation of the intestine. According to the veterinary team, given the condition of Adhama’s organs and his fat reserves, this does not appear to have been a long-term illness. The team is continuing to study the situation to learn more, but given the lack of significant symptoms, the team is confident there’s nothing they would have done differently.

Adhama arrived at the Dallas Zoo in 2017, when we opened the Simmons Hippo Outpost.

“From the time he arrived here at the Dallas Zoo, Adhama captivated us all with his curious nature and larger-than-life personality. He was a wonderful ambassador as we opened our Simmons Hippo Outpost and reintroduced hippos to Dallas last year,” said Gregg Hudson, President and CEO of the Dallas Zoo. “Our entire team is understandably shaken, given the suddenness of Adhama’s passing. Please keep our entire staff in your thoughts during this difficult time.”

Adhama and Boipelo came to the Dallas Zoo in March 2017 (from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens and Albuquerque Zoo, respectively), ahead of the opening of the Zoo’s Simmons Hippo Outpost in April. These two hippos were matched on a breeding recommendation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.

The two quickly bonded and became an adorable pair, enjoying lounging together on the habitat’s sand beach or taking naps in the 120,000-gallon pool.

“We know so many people in our extended Zoo family share in our sadness since we have enjoyed watching Adhama and Boipelo as their personalities and relationship developed over these last 18-plus months,” said Hudson.

Boipelo gave birth to a calf in February 2018, but the calf did not survive. The hippo keepers report that Boipelo is subdued in the initial hours since Adhama’s passing. The team is focused on ensuring she is maintaining as much of a routine as possible in spite of the loss of her mate. She will be given access to the habitat starting today, but the Zoo staff will follow her lead on her day-to-day availability.

The Zoo will continue to provide updates as more information is available.

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Simmons Hippo Outpost | 21 Comments

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: , , | 2 Comments

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

Brought to you by the Dallas Zoo