Horticulture

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

Greening the Zoo

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Rain, rain…come our way!

Horticulture manager, Randy Johnson, next to rainwater collection tank

Horticulture manager, Randy Johnson, next to new rainwater collection tank

What do rainwater harvesting tanks and reforestation have in common? They’re just a couple of the many environmentally friendly ways we create a self-sustaining ecosystem at the Dallas Zoo.

Conservation has been a pillar at the Zoo for some time now. And we aim to maximize the conservation of plants and wildlife by leading the way in sustainability and green initiatives. Through water conservation and reforestation, the Zoo reduces its ecological footprint. We hope it will encourage visitors to actively incorporate sustainable living into their own lives.

“We encourage people to lessen their ecological footprint on the earth,” said Randy Johnson, Dallas Zoo horticulture manager. “This positive impact can be a leading example for generations to come. We’re not only saving the environment, but also future generations.”

Water conservation

We’ve installed two stainless steel tanks to retain about 70% of water runoff at the Zoo. These tanks hold up to 3,125 gallons of harvested rainwater, which can be used for irrigation and other purposes, such as exhibit maintenance, throughout the Zoo.

This rainwater harvesting system reduces demand on the existing water supply and saves thousands of gallons of water over a single year. The system helps cut down on the amount of rain that washes into rivers and sewers, preventing flooding, erosion

Recently planted tree in Wilds of Africa

Recently planted tree in Wilds of Africa

and pollution. Think about it: water is a precious commodity, and rainwater tanks are an inexpensive and low-maintenance way to conserve.

Reforestation

We know trees absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and help offset the negative effects of climate change. As a result, the Dallas Zoo is committed to planting more native trees onsite. We’ve already planted 50 trees around the 106-acre Zoo, many in the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

Most importantly, plants and trees make up the backbone of all habitats, where animals depend on them for food and shelter. We want to use as many native plant species as possible to ensure a healthy ecosystem for the Zoo’s biodiversity.

In fact, you might say that green’s our favorite color!

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Meet the Zoo Team: Randy Johnson

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Not many people can say they enjoy their first cup of coffee in the morning while listening to a lion’s roar echo in the distance. But that’s how Randy Johnson’s day starts off.

Dallas Zoo horticulture manager, Randy Johnson

Dallas Zoo horticulture manager, Randy Johnson

Randy’s been the horticulture manager at the Dallas Zoo for just over a year, and he’s made quite an impression. With a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M, a job managing private estate gardens for just over three years in the Dallas area, and working as Director of Horticulture at Texas Discovery Gardens in Fair Park, Randy was more than qualified for the job of caring for the Zoo’s plant life.

He also began his own consulting business, Randy Johnson Organics, where he grows and sells native Texas plants as well as other ecotypes throughout North Texas. To top it all off, he serves on the Board of Directors at Lakeland Community Garden in Dallas and is the current president of the Dallas chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. The man bleeds chlorophyll.

His tall, wiry frame and shoulder-length hair, coupled with an Asian sun hat perched atop his head, make him instantly recognizable. Not only that, but he’s the very definition of “southern charm” when his country singer drawl emanates from staff radios throughout the Zoo. (Check out the audio file and you’ll see what we mean.)

Randy’s day-to-day responsibilities include “all things botanical.” He supervises eight people, and their work encompasses anything that emits oxygen. From the blades of grass on Picnic Ridge to the huge trees in ZooNorth and the shrubs of the Savanna, Randy and his team ensure that the Zoo’s plant life thrives, as well as making the park beautiful and shady for guests.

“There are lots of challenges,” he says. “But my goal is to make the Zoo a 100% organic ecosystem.” One of the reasons Randy wanted to work here is his philosophy of strengthening the Zoo’s native fauna, while reducing its invasive plant species.

“If a bird eats something invasive and poops it out somewhere else, we can’t have that,” he explains. “We have to be concerned with how we affect our surrounding environment.”

One of his favorite things: creating habitats that make animals feel at home. “We owe it to them,” he says with conviction. “It’s our job to provide the best quality of life for these animals. An elephant can’t raise money [for conservation], but we can.” These creatures may not be in their native lands, but Randy and his crew make them think they are.

One of Randy’s wildest experiences involved the time a massive tree collapsed into the flamingo pond. You’d think David Blaine was involved, from the way the entire staff cleaned up the mess and made it seem like it never happened. “It was awesome watching all these departments come together under this bad experience,” he said.

That’s the thing about the Dallas Zoo. It’s not only full of hundreds of interesting animals … hundreds of talented and fascinating individuals like Randy work here, too.

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Stormy Weather

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That was quite a storm that blew through Dallas this afternoon.
Your Dallas Zoo will have a delayed opening of 11 a.m. Friday morning (October 3)  and will be offering $5 admission all day.
ZooStorm10.2.14Some areas of the zoo, like the Wilds of Africa Plaza, may be closed while we continue the debris cleanup.  We’ll get your Zoo back to normal as quickly as possible. The great news is, everyone is safe and sound.  Our staff worked quickly to shift animals indoors and to help guide guests to shelter. A big kudos to all of our staff, from zookeepers to Guests Services to our Facilities team. We couldn’t do it without you!
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Growing green: feeding animals and guests

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Organic lettuce, tomatoes, basil, radishes, cabbage, green beans – it’s what’s for lunch at the Zoo, for our guests and our animals. With the help of Dallas County’s Master Gardeners, we’re harvesting nutrient-rich produce to feed our four- and two-legged friends.

Across our 106-acre property, we’ve planted multiple dietary supplemental gardens for our animals, as well as bulk “browse gardens” filled with woody plants for our large herbivores. And to feed our guests, we have an organic chef’s garden used to create lunch specials at Prime Meridian Cafe in ZooNorth.

“It can’t get any fresher than this. Other vegetables 10 miles away are transported on a truck, burning fossil fuels. We’re reducing our carbon footprint,” said Randy Johnson, horticulture manager. “Most people can’t even eat all organic, and we’re giving it to our animals.”

Every week after the animal produce is harvested, it’s sent to our state-of-the-art Animal Nutrition Center (ANC) for processing, cleaning, and measuring. “The produce grown on-site makes us so much more appreciative of what we’re serving our animals,” said Aaron Bussell, nutrition supervisor. “And it’s very beneficial to our zookeepers. They have more variety to offer the animals.”

With thousands of animal mouths to feed each day, totaling more than 20,000 pounds of food weekly, Bussell says any amount of produce grown on-site helps. “It’s one less case of food a week of 60 cases we’re sending out to our animals. We’re starting small, but it’s already making an impact,” he said.

Future plans include planting another half-dozen organic gardens on zoo grounds. Plus, a special treat is in store for our giraffes, zebras, and elephants – insert brag – since we are the only zoo in the U.S. to incorporate these majestic animals into one habitat. Soon the entire back perimeter of the Giants of the Savanna habitat will be lined with woody browse, including one of their favorite snacks – red tip photinia, Johnson says.

For the human mouths, our executive chef, Dan Bevis, and sous chef, Jacob Hunter, are incorporating delicious veggies into your meals, too. Every other day, they’re out in their 400-square-foot garden, watering and harvesting produce.

“It’s not just hamburgers and hotdogs at the Zoo,” Bevis said. “We’re creating unique, fresh and organic dishes every day. We take a lot of pride in our garden – watching it grow gives me an incredible amount of pleasure.”

And it’s that passion and commitment to fresh ingredients that is changing our guest’s perceptions of zoo food every day – from daily specials in Prime Meridian, to catered events such as company picnics.

And we couldn’t do it without the tremendous help from Dallas County’s Master Gardeners, who are here weekly keeping our gardens green and giving.

Woody plants for our large herbivores grow near the elephant barn.
Woody plants for our large herbivores grow near the elephant barn.
Dallas Zoo/Ashley Allen
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Categories: Conservation, Enrichment, Horticulture, Nutrition | Leave a comment

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