Mammals

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.

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

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 | Leave a comment

It’s been one magical year with our Swaziland elephants

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Tendaji and Zola share a playful moment.

Tendaji and Zola share a playful moment.

Today marks one monumental year since we rescued five elephants from drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa. (We’re as shocked as you are that it’s really been a year.) The elephants were flown to the U.S. aboard a chartered 747 jet in a carefully planned operation, arriving March 11, 2016.

Nolwazi, Amahle, Zola, Tendaji, Mlilo and baby Ajabu joined our four “Golden Girls,” Jenny, Gypsy, Congo and Kamba. And since they’ve arrived, we’ve soaked up every minute of this opportunity to get to know them.

Nolwazi, Jenny and Zola rub their trunks on one another./Jared Moeller

Nolwazi, Jenny and Zola rub their trunks on one another./Jared Moeller

They’ve taught us more than we could’ve imagined. Patience. Perseverance. Our love runs so deep for these animals.

Each elephant is complex and personable, each different from the next, yet so perfect together. They’ve merged extremely well with our Golden Girls.

“Their social bonding has exceeded our highest expectations,” said Harrison Edell, vice president of animal operations and welfare. “It’s been quite heartwarming to see them form such strong connections so quickly.”

As they continue to figure out their social hierarchy within the 10-member herd, we’ve enjoyed learning who’s drawn to who; who prefers dips in the pool and who prefers dry land most; who brings the playful trouble and who respects their elders. Here’s the shortened Cliff Notes version.

Gypsy embraces Amahle./Marc Abelanet

Gypsy embraces Amahle./Marc Abelanet

According to our rock star elephant keepers, “little” Amahle, who is daughter to Nolwazi, is goofy, playful, loud and dramatic. She’s an instigator and gets away with it, because most of the elephants are simply drawn to this social butterfly. She’s a water baby and will gladly swim solo, or welcome a partner. She’ll lay down and flop around in the pool with the Texas sun shining down on her.

Nolwazi, who is protective of daughter Amahle, is pretty quiet and mellow, but has a frisky side that she can’t hide. She enjoys playfully sparring with older gals Jenny and Gypsy. She enjoy pool dips and serious mud wallow sessions. She also loves her browse, stripping the bark off of branches and snapping ‘em like twigs.

Tendaji is a ladies man for sure, and the ladies sure love their boy! Zola and Gypsy are his go-to sparring partners. He frequents mud wallow gatherings with the ladies, where they’ll splash in the mud with no cares. He’s grown into one confident, gregarious fella.

Take note: This is how you really enjoy a sand pile. Thanks, Nolwazi and Jenny./Jared Moeller

Two happy elephants in a sand pile. (Nolwazi and Jenny)/Jared Moeller

Zola can be quiet and reserved, but at other times very playful and assertive. She’s great at respecting her elders, and is a leader by example. Her favorite sparring partners are Amahle and Tendaji – the playing never ends.

Mama Mlilo is busy raising her 635-pound, 10-month-old baby Ajabu like a pro. She’s patient and attentive, and keeps a very watchful eye on her precious boy. She enjoys wallowing and dust bathing with the sand.

Ajabu, our surprise baby born two months after their arrival, loves getting dirty, climbing on rocks and logs, investigating everything and testing his strength by trying to push logs around. “He’s sometimes overly dramatic, and is usually full of energy, but will often have afternoon siestas if he has worn himself out earlier in the day,” said elephant supervisor Katrina Bilski.

Ten-month-old Ajabu take a break to nurse.

Ajabu takes a break to nurse.

Last year, our Swaziland rescues arrived underweight. With food sources affected by the historic Swaziland drought, we were paying to bring in truckloads of hay from South Africa to feed the hungry elephants.

Now, their diet is as gourmet as it gets. Fresh woody “browse” greets the growing elephants daily – they spend hours foraging for scattered branches like American elm, Bradford pear and red-tipped photinia. Produce like sweet potatoes and carrots are crowd favorites; squash, zucchini, and celery, though, not so much.

Bilski says Ajabu is the odd exception. “The baby loves his greens, especially kale and celery.”

And they’ve packed on weight like happy honeymooners on vacation.

Nolwazi, our oldest Swaziland elephant estimated to be 23 years old, and Amahle’s mom:

  • Arrival weight: 4,310 pounds
  • Now: 5,390 pounds

Mlilo, estimated to be 14 years old, and mother to Ajabu:

  • Arrival weight: 4,775 pounds
  • Now: 5,000 pounds and a nursing mama

Zola, estimated to be 14 years old:

  • Arrival weight: 4,055 pounds
  • Now: 5,160 pounds

Tendaji, our bull, estimated to be 14 years old:

  • Arrival weight: 3,530 pounds
  • Now: 4,780 pounds

Amahle, daughter to Nolwazi, estimated to be 8 years old:

  • Arrival weight: 2,395 pounds
  • Now: 3,130 pounds

We hope you’ve enjoyed observing these exceptionally smart, dynamic animals as much as we’ve loved caring for them. Elephants in the wild have a huge crisis to combat, and one we will continue to fight wholeheartedly in Africa and here at the Dallas Zoo.

“Our research scientists have several observation projects under way involving our 10-elephant herd,” said Edell. “With the species facing such an uncertain future and so many threats in the wild, that critically important information will help us ensure that these animals thrive in human care.”

Our Swaziland elephants remind us every day why we undertook this long, difficult process to bring them to a home where they’re safe, loved and enriched.

And a special shout-out goes to our elephant curator Karen Gibson and her remarkably devoted, hard-working team of keepers. They’re world-class.

Check out this slideshow of never-before-seen photos of our herd.

The elephants gather on the Savanna.
The elephants gather on the Savanna.
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Categories: Africa, Conservation, Elephant, Mammals | Tags: | 3 Comments

Elephant introductions: A peek at a very complicated process

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It’s been eight months since we rescued five elephants from Swaziland, Africa, in an intricate airlift to save their lives. Since then, we’ve been introducing the new arrivals – Nolwazi, Amahle, Zola, Tendaji and Mlilo – to our four “Golden Girls,” Jenny, Gypsy, Congo and Kamba.

And believe us, entire NASA expeditions to outer space may have been launched with less care, planning, observation and hard work. Have you ever introduced a new pet to your family? Now imagine it with 10,000-pound animals.

All summer, the nine adult elephants have been in various parts of the Giants of the Savanna habitat, getting to know each other and forming their own complex social bonds. The arrival of calf Ajabu in May brought great joy, but added another layer of complexity to the introductions.

Congo, Kamba, Tendaji and Zola graze together in the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

Congo, Kamba, Tendaji and Zola graze together in the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

Our keepers have monitored the elephants almost around-the-clock. (They even slept in the elephant barn after Ajabu was born, to keep an eye on the little guy.) And our research scientists and volunteers keep detailed notes of all of the interactions, to chart the herd dynamics.

It’s been complex, exhilarating, humbling, emotional, sometimes nerve-wracking – and incredibly rewarding. So we’d like to share just a bit of our daily lives with these remarkable creatures, taken from our team’s observation notes and interviews.

Remember, training occurs simply so we can provide better medical and husbandry care for the elephants. We utilize “protected contact,” not sharing their space, so we let elephants be elephants.

Read more »

Categories: Conservation, Elephant | 2 Comments

‘Rockstar’ cooperative cat aides Zoo medical study

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Pull, poke and squeeze a cat’s tail, and you may not like the results – but Lakai, the Dallas Zoo’s 7-year-old mountain lion, isn’t like most cats.

He doesn’t mind having his tail prodded and squeezed, and it’s helping zookeepers and veterinarians explore a lesser-known medical field.

Zoo staff are taking blood pressure readings on Lakai’s tail using an inflating cuff, similar to one used on humans. The readings will help monitor his well-being and track data in a medical area without a lot history.

“There is very little data on blood pressure on awake mountain lions. The majority of blood pressures are taken on mountain lions while anesthetized,” said Dianna Lydick, manager of the zoo’s A.H. Meadows Animal Care Facility.

Lakai’s blood pressure training and readings are generating interest and buzz internally and throughout the zoo community nationwide.

“There are definitely people wanting this information,” said keeper Libby Hayes, adding that any time you can avoid aestheticizing an animal for medical treatments, it’s better for the animal.

To get to this point, Hayes and keeper Caron Oliver worked on tail training with Lakai every week starting in May. Over time, the mountain lion became comfortable staying in position, allowing keepers to grab his tail, prod it with a needle for blood draws and squeeze it tightly to take the blood pressure readings.

All aspects of the tail training is voluntary and done with positive reinforcement. If Lakai doesn’t want to participate, he doesn’t have to. Luckily, he doesn’t mind trying new things, Oliver said.

Categories: Mountain lion, Veterinary Care | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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