Mammals

Dallas Zoo welcomes a healthy baby hippo

Calf born to mom Boipelo Tuesday evening

Hippo mom Boipelo and baby captured snuggled up on May 15.

The Dallas Zoo is proudly welcoming a Nile hippopotamus calf born Tuesday, May 14, around 6:30 p.m. to 12-year-old mom Boipelo after an eight-month-long gestation. Both mom and calf are doing well – labor lasted roughly seven hours, and the calf was observed nursing just two hours after birth. The animal care team was able to observe labor and delivery via the hippo barn’s closed-circuit camera to give mom privacy.

“We timed Boipelo’s contractions every moment she barrel rolled in the water, and after about 100 rolls, we saw a baby emerge,” said Matt James, Dallas Zoo’s Senior Director of Animal Care. “The baby immediately began moving and kicking and Boipelo swiftly nudged it to the ledge of the pool, where the baby sprawled out and took a break. Boipelo has been very attentive, gently nudging the calf to the surface for air after each nursing session. Hippo calves need to come up every 30 seconds to breathe, and she’s doing a great job ensuring the baby is getting everything it needs. ”

The zoo’s veterinary and animal care experts have prepared for the calf’s arrival since January, when they first preformed a successful ultrasound on 2,420-pound Boipelo. In 2018, the Dallas Zoo became the first U.S. zoo to capture serial fetal growth images on a pregnant hippo through voluntary ultrasound.

The team performed weekly ultrasounds capturing images of the baby’s heart, chest cavity, head, feet, and other body parts. With very few high-quality images of hippo fetal growth in zoos, Dallas Zoo’s experts have built a foundation of growth norms to share with other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

“Performing ultrasounds on hippos has always been challenging because of the sheer size of the animal. Being able to successfully track this baby’s growth is really a testament to the relationships the zoologists have built with Boipelo,” said Jan Raines, D.V.M., Dallas Zoo’s associate veterinarian. “After the tragic loss of our male hippo Adhama last October, the zoologists went above and beyond to provide Boipelo with the emotional support she needed. I know the bonds they’ve formed have really helped during our ultrasound sessions.”

Boipelo and Adhama were paired together on an AZA Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation shortly before Adhama passed away.

In February 2018,Boipelo lost her first calf moments after delivery – the calf never took a breath due to its lungs not fully inflating.

“We have gone through great loss to get to this remarkable moment of welcoming a healthy hippo calf,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “Our animal care team and our female hippo are nothing short of resilient. We are grateful to have Adhama’s legacy live on in this new baby.”

Over the past six months, zoologists have observed very positive behaviors in Boipelo as she’s grown into her independence.

“Boipelo has really come out of her shell; this time of adjustment has been very important for her,” said John Fried, Dallas Zoo’s mammal curator. “She’s developed her own personality and has gained a lot confidence that will surely contribute to giving her newborn the best care possible.”

In the wild, hippos live in social settings for greater protection from predators. In order to replicate the most natural environment for Boipelo, the animal care team will bring in another male hippo later this year from an AZA-accredited institution.

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, hippos are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss, and poaching for their meat and ivory-canine teeth.

The Dallas Zoo opened its $14 million award-winning Simmons Hippo Outpost in April 2017. The habitat features an immersive African waterhole with a 120,000-gallon pool and a 24 by 8-foot underwater viewing window. The habitat also includes a herd of critically endangered okapi that guests can learn about up close in daily keeper chats.

Boipelo and her calf remain behind the scenes where they are bonding privately. The zoo will announce their public debut in the coming weeks, along with the baby’s name and gender. In the meantime, guests are encouraged to visit the red river hogs who are currently in the habitat, with the okapi nearby.

Categories: Africa, Hippo | 2 Comments

Dallas Zoo welcomes another baby gorilla! 

Baby gorilla playdates will be endless this year at the Dallas Zoo! We are welcoming our second baby gorilla born in 21 years – and the second born in just the last year.

A close-up of Megan’s baby./Senior Zoologist Annie B.

Our 13-year-old critically endangered western lowland gorilla Megan quietly delivered the infant in the early morning on Thursday, March 7. This is Megan’s first time raising a baby and both are doing well; Megan has been very attentive, and the baby is nursing often and is keeping a strong grip on mom.

This birth brings another new wave of excitement for the Dallas Zoo – this is the first time we’ve cared for two baby gorillas at the same time in almost 50 years. Nearly nine-month-old gorilla Saambili (born June 25, 2018 to mom Hope) now has a half-sibling playmate, and she’s already shown much interest in the newest addition.

“Gorilla conservation is a huge part of Dallas Zoo’s mission – we’ve been unwavering in our commitment to save them in the wild, and now we’re contributing more than ever to their protection in human care,” said Gregg Husdon, Dallas Zoo’s President and CEO. “We’ve gone from not having an infant gorilla for two decades, to now having two babies back-to-back, and it truly shows the dedication and perseverance of our world-class animal experts.”  

Mom Megan was paired with silverback Subira (also the father to Saambili) on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation in hopes of increasing the western lowland gorilla population in North America. Subira has proven to be an excellent father to Saambili, and he’s recently been observed giving her special attention and playtime during this quiet period for the troop.

“This is the most ideal social situation for our troop – both of our babies will be able to learn, grow, and play together,” said Linda King, Dallas Zoo’s Primate Supervisor. “This is also a big moment for mom Megan who has been extremely interested in Saambili since day one. She now has the wonderful opportunity to raise a baby of her own.”

Megan holds her sleeping baby./Lead Zoologist Tara S.

The Dallas Zoo cares for ten gorillas, including the bachelor troop who live on the south side of the Gorilla Trail, and the family troop who live on the north side. All six family troop members have remained behind the scenes so Megan and her baby can bond privately. Zoologists will take their cues from Megan on her comfort level and readiness to explore the habitat. A moniker and the baby’s gender reveal will come within the coming weeks.

According to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, there are approximately 350,000 western lowland gorillas left in Africa. The population decline is contributed to habitat destruction, poaching for bush meat, animal trafficking, and disease.

Native to the Congo Basin, western lowland gorillas are the smallest of the subspecies and the least critically endangered. There are roughly 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas, 880 mountain gorillas, and 300 Cross River gorillas remaining in the wild.

With nearly 300 western lowland gorillas living in AZA-accredited zoos, the nation’s top zoos have never been more committed to protecting this species in human care and in their native habitat. The Dallas Zoo has supported gorilla conservation for many years through its partners at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE).

Our animal care team aims for Megan and her baby to make their first scheduled public appearance by the end of the week (weather dependent). We will share the date on our social media channels!

Categories: Africa, Gorilla | 6 Comments

Saving elephants: the largest land animals on Earth

Conservation and Management Intern Alisia Boyd guest-blogs on Zoohoo!

“They say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.“

Bill Murray

In the early 1900s, an estimated 3-5 million elephants thrived across a vast range in Africa. Today, there are only about 415,000 African elephants remaining in the wild, and their range has been reduced by nearly half. They have suffered from massive amounts of poaching for their highly prized ivory tusks. The demand for ivory was so steep that in 1989, an international trading ban was put into place. However, illegal poaching persists and results in the deaths of approximately 96 elephants every single day.

If current trends continue, it is entirely possible that they will be extinct in our lifetime, which is why we are on a mission to support elephants in the wild. This week, the Dallas Zoo has set a goal to raise $10,000 through grassroots fundraising to support conservation efforts in the wild. Read on to learn more about these amazing animals and what you can do at the Dallas Zoo to help!

Dallas Zoo’s herd

The Dallas Zoo’s award-winning Giants of the Savanna habitat is home to 8 magnificent African elephants. The “Golden Girls:” Jenny (42), Gypsy (37), Congo (41), Kamba (39) and the Swazis: Tendaji (approx. 15), Mlilo (approx. 15), Zola (approx. 15) and baby Ajabu (2).

Baby Ajabu plays in a mud wallow.

The design of the Giants of the Savanna habitat was based on field research and allows our elephants to be more active as they look for food, water, and companionship, just as they would in the wild. Treats are occasionally hidden in trees or in niches around the habitat, and elephants exercise their trunk muscles to find those treats or to reach high-hanging hay nets. They travel over small hills, into waterholes, and along an off-exhibit pathway for additional workouts.

The Dallas Zoo elephants also have the luxury of their behind-the-scenes barn. The innovative barn is optimized for climate control – with radiant floor heating and padding in the winter months and movable walls that provide cross-ventilation in the summer heat. This barn also has a community room with 7-foot-deep sand floors used to bury food and toys, since the elephants are accomplished diggers.

An elephant’s life

Elephants are well-known for their intelligence, close family ties and social complexity, and their capacity to remember other individuals and places for years. Elephants have strong, individual personalities that affect how they interact with other elephants and how others perceive them.

An example of this at the Dallas Zoo can be seen among the Golden Girls. Jenny, our oldest resident, is vocal and playful. Gypsy is mischievous, eager, and loves attention. Congo is inquisitive and enjoys exploring. Lastly, Kamba is friendly and cautious and enjoys being around the other elephants.

The position of head of the family is held by a female known as the “matriarch.” Matriarchs express their dominance in both competitive and cooperative situations. The most successful leaders seem to be confident individuals who are able to command the respect of others through both their wisdom and their charisma.

An elephant herd consists of one or more (usually related) adult females and their immature offspring who feed, rest, move, and interact in a coordinated manner and are closely bonded. Members of a family show extraordinary teamwork and are highly cooperative in group defense, resource acquisition, offspring care, and decision-making.

(Source: elephantvoices.org)

Dallas Zoo supports conservation

Since January 2019, a group of dedicated conservation interns has been learning all about African elephants – through interviews with keepers, behind-the-scenes tours, and tons of research. It all culminates in this special Conservation Week (March 9-16), when we will be engaging Dallas Zoo guests to promote awareness about elephants and inspire conservation action.

This is an exciting time for us, as we get to show our months of hard work and dedication to the conservation of elephants. We have also worked countless hours ensuring that we are getting different departments of the zoo engaged and excited for the upcoming week of fun, information, and memorable experiences.

How YOU can help

The BIGGEST way you can help elephants is to NEVER purchase ivory or anything made from parts of elephants. Also share this information with others around you so that you can help spread awareness and begin the cycle of change.

A group of Dallas Zoo interns, including myself, have organized a jammed-packed week full of fun events and conservation engagement. We hope you join us at the Dallas Zoo during Swing Break through March 17 to help us create a better world for animals.

We’ve set ambitious goals for Elephant conservation, and we need your help to reach them:

  1. $10,000 for elephant conservation – Help us reach this goal by purchasing elephant swag from us at our Campaign Station in the Zoo, or by attending any of the events during Swing Break.
  2. 2,500 personal pledges – Stop by our Saving Elephants Campaign Station to take a pledge for pro-wildlife behaviors that benefit elephants.

Please support our efforts of raising funds for elephants so we can continue making a positive impact for the lives of the most majestic mammals.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Elephant | Tags: , | 3 Comments

3 strange and unusual animal mating rituals you need to know about

Madagascar hissing cockroaches have some pretty wacky mating rituals.

WARNING! This content is NSFW!…we’re only kidding, of course.

Dating and relationships can be complicated, confusing and downright weird. But if you think your significant other is behaving strangely, just wait until you hear about how things go down in the animal kingdom. Seriously though, we’re here to educate. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we thought you needed to know about these three absolutely abnormal animal mating rituals.

Tamanduas

Also known as lesser anteaters, tamanduas use their long snouts to sniff out ant, termite and bee colonies. They can eat up to 9,000 ants in a single day! Their long claws enable them to dig into nests and climb trees, and a long, sticky tongue licks up insects.

Tamanduas are solitary animals, until it’s time to find that special someone.

Tamanduas are solitary animals, until it’s time to find a mate. This typically occurs in the fall, and if the timing isn’t exactly right, tamanduas will either ignore each other completely or begin fighting. Totally relatable, right? Zoologists have to closely monitor their behavior to be sure they introduce the male and female at the exact right time. Then once breeding has completed, they need to be separated again pretty quickly, or else the fighting may continue. Basically, they just want to be left alone.

If successful, tamandua gestation lasts for 130-190 days. Babies are born with a solid-colored coat that looks pretty different from their mother’s, but they have those same large claws.

Our female outreach tamandua, Chispa recently gave birth to little Abrazo, who is cute as can be. Abrazo will ride on his mom’s back for about 6 months, and he’ll stay pretty close to her for about a year before beginning his own solitary life.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches

Madagascar hissing cockroaches aren’t anything like the roaches you may find in your apartment – as their name implies, these creepy-crawlers emit a hissing sound. Most insects that make noises do so by rubbing their body parts together (like crickets). However, the Madagascar hissing cockroach exhales air through spiracles, which are small holes in their abdomens. Male roaches will “hiss” to attract females, and females will emit an odor to let the males know they’re interested.

Once they find each other, the males further express interest by rubbing the antennae of the female. After successful breeding, the female will carry around the egg case, called an “ooethecas,” for a little over 2 months until the nymphs (baby cockroaches) hatch from the case.

Next time you’re at Bug U!, see if you can tell the males from the females — males have two horns on their thorax, and females do not.

Male giraffe will sample the urine of potential mates.

Giraffes

Giraffes are the world’s tallest land animal. Our tallest giraffe stands 17 feet tall! They may be incredibly tall and majestic creatures, but their mating ritual is downright weird. In order to determine if a female giraffe is fertile, the male will taste her urine. That’s right. Since giraffe don’t have a set menstrual/estrous cycle like other animals, this is the only way. Males can detect the females’ hormone levels just by drinking their pee.

Once they know that the timing is right, they’ll follow their girl around for a few days trying to mount her. During this time, he may need to fight off competition! He’ll do this by swinging his impressive long neck around and whacking any other males who get in his way.

The fertile female avoids her suitor for a while, until finally standing still long enough to do the deed. This may occur several times over the course of a few days. Once pregnant, the giraffe calf gestates for over 400 days.


Well there you have it. Did this blog post make you blush? Let us know in the comments.

P.S. If you want to learn even more about mating in the animal kingdom, join us for Love Birds & Wild Things this Saturday, Feb. 16. Our very own Dr. Raines will give you all the shockingly true deets about animal reproduction, plus you’ll get a special Zoo tour, light bites (including chocolate covered strawberries!) and a champagne toast.  Tickets are limited and will go fast! Click HERE to reserve your spot now.

Categories: Giraffe, Social Media, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A day in the life of a zookeeper in North Savanna

Witten and his mom enjoy a January day in the North Savanna habitat.

It’s 7 a.m. on a chilly January morning. Lisa Fitzgerald and her team are huddled around a table for their daily status meeting. There were no stops for coffee on their way into work this morning. No hitting the snooze button. No late starts. They can’t. That’s because they have ten hungry giraffe, five kudu, four ostriches and 14 guinea fowl depending on them, regardless of the weather or time of year. But they’re not complaining – they love these animals and are some of the most passionate, dedicated people you’ll ever encounter.

This is an inside look at how just one of our many teams of zookeepers provide the highest level of care to the 2,000-plus animals of the Dallas Zoo – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Get eyes on the animals
The first item on their to-do list in the morning is to get a visual on each and every animal. The team of 12 keepers splits up into two groups – one team handles the giraffe herd, the other takes care of the hoofstock and birds. As they walk their respective barns, the keepers take note of anything that seems off or may have changed overnight. On a chilly night, all the animals remain indoors in their cozy, heated barns.

Keepers preparing morning meals for our giraffe herd.

Breakfast time
Next step is morning meals for everyone. Each species (and in some cases, each individual animal) receives specialized diets according to their needs. Keepers lug huge bowls full of spinach and pellets in for the ostriches at one barn. Simultaneously, another keeper prepares fresh produce for the giraffe in the other barn.

Prep the habitat
The habitats then need to be prepared for the animals to go out for the day, if weather allows. In case of freezing temperatures or inclement weather, most animals will remain in the comfort of their barns. Since the North Savanna is home to several different species, the whole team helps with this step. They walk the entire expansive habitat to check for hazards like fallen trees or litter that may have made its way in. Once that’s done and any hazards have been cleared, they scatter food and enrichment items for the animals to enjoy throughout the day.

Keepers getting the habitat ready for the animals to go out for the day.

Shifting – what is that?
In the world of zookeepers, moving the animals from one place to another is referred to as “shifting.” But this doesn’t happen unless the animals are willing participants. You can’t make a 17-foot tall, 2,500-pound giraffe do anything he doesn’t want to do. Getting animals comfortable with shifting takes time, patience and relationship-building. They’re given tons of positive reinforcement and treats each time they choose to participate.

Shifting four different species is no easy feat, but the keepers have it down to a science. Ostriches are the first out, and they go right to their stations where fresh spinach treats await them. Next are the kudu, who follow suit and wait patiently at their designated station as keepers feed them romaine lettuce. Then come the giraffe who are split into two groups – one goes out to the feeding habitat, and one to the larger Savanna habitat. Both groups are greeted with romaine and carrots to keep them at their stations until all is done. Finally, the guinea fowl follow suit. Once every animal has left the barns, the gates are closed and the animals are free to roam the expansive Savanna and enjoy their day. Keepers then will clean up the barns and prepare for the animals to come back inside at the end of the day.

Beau the kudu receives a lettuce treat (aka positive reinforcement) for choosing to go to his station during shifting.

Wrapping Up
The team may also hold a few animals back to work on training behaviors for routine health checks and more. Training is an essential part of their daily routine and helps reinforce their relationship with the animals they care for. In addition, our keepers contribute to animal research and help develop best practices for accredited zoos around the country. Their days are long but rewarding in every sense.

Once the Zoo is closed to the public, it’s time to bring everyone back inside. Before they know it, the keepers’ ten-hour day is over and they leave “the office” knowing their work has made an impact caring for some of the most majestic animals on earth. They’re excited to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

Categories: Africa, Giraffe, Zookeepers | 3 Comments

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