Mammals

Hippos, hippos, hooray! Dallas Zoo opens new $14 million exhibit

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Adhama swims in the waterhole

Adhama swims in the waterhole in the new Simmons Hippo Outpost

It’s finally ready! Our $14 million, 2.1-acre Simmons Hippo Outpost, an immersive African waterhole habitat that includes an underwater viewing area, will open on Friday, April 28.

An official ribbon-cutting at 10:30 a.m. will kick off the three-day, Simmons Hippos Outpost Opening Weekend, featuring special activities and giveaways.

“This habitat has exceeded our highest hopes,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “We’re confident that being face-to-face with a submerged, 3,000-pound hippo will be a highlight for our guests. Even more importantly, this new experience will help our community better understand the critical need for conservation of all species and wild spaces.”

“The Dallas Zoo has once again set the standard for today’s accredited zoological parks,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “This project is the latest example of how successful public-private partnerships can be, especially when supported by our city’s generous philanthropists. The new Simmons Hippo Outpost brings yet another level of excellence to this world-class facility just three miles from downtown.”

Boipelo explores underwater at the new viewing window

Boipelo explores underwater at the viewing window

Special Simmons Hippo Outpost Opening Weekend events include:

  • The first 500 guests in the zoo each day (Friday-Sunday) will receive a squishy hippo toy
  • Unveiling of a hippo-themed “B-G” statue, part of the popular series from VisitDallas
  • #DallasZooHippos photo opportunities with a life-sized ceramic hippo and a costumed hippo
  • An okapi keeper chat at 2:15 p.m. each day, followed by a hippo zookeeper chat at 2:30 p.m.
  • Create hippo-related crafts at the Highland Hippo Hut
  • Take home special Simmons Hippo Outpost trading cards

Reunion Tower also will light up the Dallas skyline Friday at dusk with a special light show celebrating the hippo habitat opening.

The new habitat, home to Adhama (uh-DAHM-a) and Boipelo (BOY-pa-lo), includes a 24-foot by 8-foot viewing window that brings guests eye-to-nostril with the Nile hippos as they explore their 120,000-gallon waterhole. Such close contact will help us teach millions of guests about conservation efforts on behalf of the world’s third-largest land mammal.

The Simmons Hippo Outpost will be our first major exhibit since the award-winning Giants of the Savanna opened in 2010.

“This remarkable exhibit is a perfect complement to the Giants of the Savanna, a game-changing habitat that helped kick off the ongoing renaissance here at the Dallas Zoo,” Hudson said. “More than a million guests a year visit us to learn about animals and conservation efforts to protect them, and bringing hippos back has been one of their most consistent requests.”

The surprisingly agile, super-sized “river horses” can be observed from multiple vantage points in the exhibit. An upper-level habitat provides an enhanced home for our world-renowned okapi herd. The new habitats are visible from the elevated Wilds of Africa Adventure Safari monorail, and red river hogs will also join the habitat in time.

Adhama walks on the shore

This habitat opening marks the return of okapi, an endangered species that we have worked with for more than a half century. Our five okapi, often called “forest giraffes” in their native Congo, have been off exhibit during construction. The okapi will return with easier visibility in two habitats, plus a special encounter area where guests can meet the stunning animals up-close during the daily 2:15 p.m. keeper chat.

In our 50-year history of caring for okapi, the animal team has welcomed 36 calves. With one of the most successful okapi breeding records of any zoo, our staff have continuously contributed to research, promoting improved husbandry practices for this charismatic species. About 75 percent of all okapi in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) are related to our offspring.

We have also played a key role in okapi conservation in the Dominican Republic of Congo in Africa by helping fund the Okapi Conservation Project. Now, our guests can get closer than ever before to this majestic, endangered species.

The Simmons Hippo Outpost campaign was funded solely with private donations, beginning with a $5 million grant from the Harold Simmons Foundation launching the project. Additional donations included:

  • Highland Capital Management LP, $1 million: This donation built the 4,485-square-foot Highland Hippo Hut for special educational displays and private events.
  • Diane and Hal Brierley, $1 million: The longtime philanthropists and Dallas Zoo supporters built the Hippo Encounter underwater viewing area, where zookeeper talks also will be held.
  • Eugene McDermott Foundation, $800,000: Longtime supporters of the Dallas Zoo.
  • A public personalized brick campaign, which honors our community supporters as a permanent part of the exhibit.
Categories: Conservation, Exhibits and Experiences, Hippo, Mammals, Okapi, Simmons Hippo Outpost | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Gorilla wounds common as males grow into silverbacks

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Gorillas Zola (left) and B’wenzi (right) interact in their habitat. Photo courtesy of Tom Harlan

Humans are squishy. It’s been a long time since our ancestors shared any of the strong, physical traits of the other great apes. And while those primates evolved to be big and tough, we did not.

As our brains began to develop instead, we became adept at using tools and learned to control fire, build shelters, and grow our own food. These advancements set us on a course to be very smart – and very squishy. We no longer needed to be big and tough, so those traits began to go away as we became more technologically advanced.

The other great apes continued down their own paths, which still require them to be strong, powerful animals. In their environments, being tough is the key to survival. It’s no surprise that a 450-pound gorilla with canine teeth 2-3 inches long can leave a nasty wound on another gorilla, and from time to time we see that here at the Zoo.

When cuts and scrapes occur in our gorillas, we’re always ready to treat and monitor them until every last scratch has healed.

So why do these herbivorous animals have such big teeth to begin with? Well, those teeth are for protection. Gorillas don’t have any true natural predators, although some research suggests the possibility of rare conflicts with leopards (definitely a good time for big teeth).

The most common threat to a silverback gorilla is generally another silverback. A male may try to challenge another to usurp his throne or steal females to build a troop of his own. Male gorillas have much larger canines than females, and they use those teeth to protect the females and youngsters in their troop.

If challenged, gorillas go through a long list of behaviors, trying to avoid a physical conflict. If you think about it, fighting someone means you’re just as likely to get hurt as they are, so why risk it? Gorillas are peaceful, laid-back animals that generally keep to themselves. In the wild, keeping a 400-pound frame of muscle while sometimes eating only the caloric equivalent of wild celery means there aren’t many good reasons to waste energy. However, when threatened, a male gorilla will not hesitate to defend his troop.

Fighting isn’t just a human trait, it’s part of life for much of the animal kingdom. Being that we’re so delicate, we’re used to even small wounds requiring attention, so our own experiences create a predisposition to react to wounds a certain way. Cutting your finger on a broken glass could require stitches, but in the middle of the jungle you don’t have the luxury of hopping in the car and heading to the hospital.

As bad as an open laceration may appear, it may not be that big of a deal for the gorilla. At the Dallas Zoo, we have an exceptional veterinary staff that can treat just about anything, and we don’t hesitate to call upon them when needed. Keeping that in mind, most animals are experts at taking care of their own wounds, and gorillas are no exception.Gorillas telling secrets-CB

If you see a gorilla with an open wound, you may notice them grooming it with their fingers and utilizing nature’s ultimate antiseptic, spit, to keep it clean. As zookeepers, we keep a close eye on injuries to make sure things are healing appropriately, but when we can, we try to let the gorillas handle the job. The decision to anesthetize a gorilla to suture a wound is a carefully calculated risk/reward scenario, especially considering that more often than not that gorilla is going to hand you back those sutures within a few hours of waking up.

We train with the gorillas daily to make sure we can see every part of their body. We also desensitize them to being sprayed with antiseptic sprays, and we work on more complicated behaviors, like hand injections. If a gorilla were to need an injectable medication, which is rare, we want to get it to them in the least stressful way.

We also record even the smallest injuries. We use a very detailed system to document every injury and the details of the situation in which it occurred. Photographs are especially helpful, as they can be used as objective data to monitor the healing process. This information is not only important for individual injuries, but for enhancing our ability to treat future injuries.

In recent months, we have seen a few different wounds to gorillas in our bachelor troop. This troop consists of four 14- to 15-year-old males. Sometimes we see genuine social issues develop, while other times play just gets a little too rough.

Bachelor troops are a relatively new concept in zoos, so constant, adaptive management is the key to peace within the troop. Between the keeper staff and our volunteers in the Gorilla Research Station, we’re able to keep a close eye on all eight of our gorillas. This has been very important as we move into a new phase of troop management with the four bachelors.

This troop has been together since 2013, when Shana and Zola came to Dallas from the Calgary Zoo to join Juba and B’wenzi. When the boys were 10-11 years old, they started forming social relationships, which comes in handy as they get older. With the information we have as other institutions manage similar troops, we know that management of bachelors is most difficult between ages 14-20. Having similar life expectancies and developmental stages to humans, we understand why these years are the most difficult (right, parents?).

Bachelor troops exist both in human care and the wild, and they serve a number of purposes. As young males begin to grow, the silverback generally will force them out of the troop, avoiding a threat to his position. Sometimes those exiled males will band together and form bachelor troops. These groups are generally transitory, but allow for development of social behaviors and provide some degree of protection from outside threats.

In zoos, bachelor troops are used to manage unattached males. Gorillas have a 50:50 birth ratio, just like humans, meaning that having single-male/multi-female troops isn’t possible for everyone. Bachelor troops can provide healthy social environments for growing male gorillas, which are often more closely bonded than they would be with female gorillas.

With all of our social apes, we also see an increase in aggression during introductions and reintroductions, which is another reason we avoid more invasive and intrusive courses of treatment. When possible, we try to avoid separating the gorillas for long periods to make sure we keep aggression to a minimum when they get back together.

When animals are injured in the zoo setting, it’s important to know the team behind the scenes is on the job at all times. If an animal needs to be watched 24 hours a day, we’ll be here with them. If they need to receive medication at a certain time, someone will be there. Between the keeper staff and the vet staff, we do all we can for preventive and reactive care of our animals, and not a scratch goes unnoticed under the watchful eye of the animal staff here at Dallas Zoo.

Categories: Gorilla, Mammals | Tags: | Leave a comment

THEY’RE HERE! Dallas Zoo welcomes hippos back for first time in 16 years

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hippos-horizontal

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: , | 3 Comments

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 | 2 Comments

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

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