Children’s Zoo (Lacerte Family)

Arty for The Planet: Teens turn conservation into art


Art met nature in a big way recently at the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo’s “Arty for The Planet” event honoring Earth Day. Fifteen young “Arty-ists,” along with Dallas Zoo staff members Jamiee Golden and Sina Ogunleye, created a sidewalk chalk crazy-quilt of nature art throughout the Children’s Zoo.

The theme was simple: what inspires you about nature? The artists responded with intricate scenes of sea life and endangered species, as well as a colorful, powerful message about the importance of bees. There were parrots and lions, flamingos and giraffes, pandas, tigers, and more. Zoo visitors as well as Zoo staff were wowed by the quality of the work.

“I was not only amazed at the sheer talent of our volunteer artists, but the effect their work had on our visitors,” said Melody Alcazar, Children’s Zoo supervisor. “A sense of calm blanketed the Children’s Zoo as guests explored the work of our gifted artists and even tried their hand at creating their own nature chalk art.”

IMG_3680Volunteer artists included Maddie Olson, Alix Burn, Anna Czyzewski, Zen White, Lauryn Shaffer, Gabriela Noriega, Emily Henderson, Maya Endsley, Brennan Nichols, Robert Swofford, Leah Lara and Shelby Linker from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts. They were joined by Cameron Johnson, Seena Berryman and Katarra Smelley from the Dallas Zoo Youth Volunteer Program, who came in on their day off to participate.

“The art was a conversation piece for the entire day for our zoo guests, and for us, too,” zookeeper Stephanie Evola said. “My personal favorite was the fennec fox [drawn by Dallas Zoo member Emily Henderson, who attends Arts Magnet]. It was so gorgeous and detailed. She even included the scientific name, Vulpes zerda.”

For Shannon Linton, educational supervisor for the Zoo’s Youth Volunteer Program, the event was gratifying on two levels.

“Arty for The Planet” was a perfect example of the Zoo’s mission, actions and animals coming together for a greater cause,” Linton said. “And to see Cameron and Seena, both of whom started out as junior zookeepers, mature into these young women making such a powerful impact on so many people with their artwork… It was just incredible.”

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15 reasons why you should wish our Children’s Zoo a happy birthday

On its 15th birthday, our Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo is happily accepting presents in the form of laughter heard throughout The Stream; open arms for bird perching in the aviary; keen eyes for inspecting butterfly wings; gentle hands for petting; and children with open hearts ready to learn about our wild world. Here are 15 reasons why you should wish our Children’s Zoo a happy birthday:

1. Our goats give hugs. Really good hugs. (They take selfies, too.)


2. We have a masterfully engineered, intricate tunnel system in The Underzone where you can get up-close to dwarf mongooses and hornbills. (Okay, if you’re 5, it’s pretty enthralling.)

Underzone LFCZ

3. This wondrous lamb statue — donated to honor the memory of Michael David Devoss (1984-1987) —  never ceases captivating tiny humans who insist on having their photo taken on it.

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4. Because pigs like belly scratches, and we’re here to deliver.

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5. Our Youth Volunteers are some pretty darn fabulous curators of making conservation cool. Y’all rock. (Learn more about them here.)

Dallas Zoo Conservation guide teenagers help clean

6. African grey parrot Murphy has been here since day one, sweet-talking guests with her puppy-dog eyes. She wins every day.


7. The Stream. Texas. Enough said.

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8. Because baby pony Epona makes our hearts race THIS fast. WATCH!

9. Daily personal animal encounters mean you could meet the sweetest, softest bunny on planet Earth. Her name is “Fluffy Angel Claire.” (Kidding. It’s just Claire.)


10. Your child will quite possibly leave our Nature Play courtyard with a desire to water plants. You’re welcome.

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11. Our birds in Travis & Zach’s Birds Landing like to get cozy on your head (preferably heads attached to bodies holding seed sticks).


12. Because learning about different animal poops through the wildly popular “Poop Game” couldn’t make fecal matter education more entertaining. (Ask to play it in the JCPenney Discovery House!)

Poop Game

13. The naked mole rats in The Underzone are so hideous, yet oddly fascinating, that you can’t stop staring.

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14. Where else can you find people who think the fossils, minerals, plants, rocks, and other natural items you find in your yard are as cool as we do? (Learn more on our “swap shop” in the Hillcrest Foundation Nature Exchange.)

Kids Leaning in Nature Exchange, Cathy Burkey (800x533)

15. Because our Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo is full of passionate staffers who are always ready to show children just how special our planet and its animals are.

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Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Zookeepers | 1 Comment

How to train a mongoose 101

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

How in the world do you find out if a dwarf mongoose is pregnant?

You weigh her! And that’s also a great way to monitor an animal’s overall health.

But teaching these adorably sassy critters to sit on a scale isn’t for the impatient. Luckily, the Dallas Zoo has keeper Sara Bjerklie, who’s developed a special relationship with Happy, Sleepy, Sally and Jada.

Since last fall, she’s worked diligently five times a week with the small African carnivores. The key: cat food. It’s part of the mongooses’ daily diet and is a delicious, motivating snack.

“It’s been fun to see their individual personalities come out during training,” Bjerklie said. “Happy lives up to his name and loves to train, just not always on his station. I like to think he has an excess of energy and just can’t stop moving. Sleepy’s the opposite, he’s a little shy guy. But with a lot of time spent together, he’s warmed up and we’ve created a great bond.”

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Mother and daughter duo Sally and Jada are typically the dominant pair in the pack. But they seem a little wary to train, and they took longer to grasp it.

The animals first trained on blue plates placed on the ground, and Bjerklie would ask them to “station” on their individual plate. As progress was made, she moved the plates on top of a small scale. And voila, we have weights! Kudos to Sara on her skill – and her persistence.

Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Enrichment, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: | Leave a comment

Attention Kids: How to reap rewards from nature

IMG_8457-4x6-Nature Exchange (800x533)Hey, kids and teens! Make a point this summer to score big points with a nature journal!

Seasoned traders as well as Nature Exchange newbies can reap big rewards by participating in the Nature Journal Contest sponsored by the Hillcrest Foundation Nature Exchange in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo. Winners can really rake in the points: first prize wins a whopping 10,000 points, second prize earns 7,500 points, and third prize is worth 4,500 points.

All you have to do is record your observations while spending time in nature. You can record an entry during a trail hike, walk through a park or garden, a fossil hunt, a camping or fishing trip, or even while playing in your own backyard.

Kids Leaning in Nature Exchange, Cathy Burkey (800x533)You can’t win if you don’t try, but in the Nature Journal Contest, everyone who does try earns 500 points. That’s 500 points added to your Nature Exchange account, just for submitting an entry!

First, second, and third prizes will be awarded to each age group: 5-7 years, 8-10 years, 11-13 years, 14-17 years. Points can be redeemed at the Hillcrest Foundation Nature Exchange, and do not expire.


Contest Rules:

  • Turn in a photocopy of your one page nature journal entry
  • Include the date, time, and weather, along with any written or rendered (draw, sketch, paint, photograph, etc.) observations of the plants and animals that you see
  • Only one entry per child

The deadline for submissions is September 7, 2015. Winners will be announced on September 21, 2015.

For those unfamiliar with the Hillcrest Foundation Nature Exchange, it’s the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo’s wildly popular “swap shop,” where zoo guests can trade in nature items, earn points for those items – and even more points if you know a little bit about your items, and then use those points to buy cool stuff off the Nature Exchange shelves. There’s no money involved: just nature, knowledge, and listening skills! (Adults, please note that while the journal contest is for younger guests, folks of all ages enjoy trading at the Nature Exchange.)

Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family) | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Top 10 reasons to go to Zoo camp

School’s winding down and the temps are rising – which means it’s time for Wild Adventures Summer Camp at the Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park! Our weeklong and single-day camps run from June 15 to Aug. 15, so check out 10 reasons why your kids (ages 3 through high school) need to be here. If spending a week or day doing amazingly awesome Zoo activities makes you shake your tail feathers, register HERE. 

1. Find answers to tough questions like “Why is a giraffe’s tongue black?” (I Wonder How Camp)

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2. Create special enrichment items for zoo animals. (Various)

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3. Dinosaurs! DINOSAURS!! (Fun-tastic Fossils, Tiny Paleontologists, Jump Into The Jurassic)

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4. Snack with flying, chirping companions. (Various)

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5. Zookeepers love animals – find out what’s your future could hold. (Careers Camp)

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6. “Hey, look!” Discover and identify local plants. (Texas Born and Bred Camp)

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7. Meet scaly, furry, feathery ambassadors from faraway lands. (Single-day Passport Camps)

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8. Make new bearded friends. (Various)

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9. Solve mysteries of the prehistoric world. (Cretaceous Cases Camp)

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10. Get hands-on with something fishy. (Camp H20)

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