Mammals

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

New roomies: Planning, patience required for nyala, red river hog introductions

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Middle Wilds of Africa keeper Jessi Vigneault guest-blogs on Zoohoo!

Just as if you were to put groups of Longhorns and Aggies in a room, getting a nyala herd to coexist peacefully with a sounder of red river hogs can have its challenges, especially when males are involved (sorry, guys).

The Dallas Zoo wanted a new home for its male and two female red river hogs, and the nyala antelope habitat had some extra room to share. Both are African species, although they inhabit different parts of the continent. This new pairing required habitat modifications, new animal training, and a slow, very closely monitored introduction. Ultimately, it would be up to the animals to decide if it would work or not.

The habitat was great for our bachelor herd of four nyala, but it wasn’t quite ready for the rooting and digging habits of hogs, so underground rebar was added to reinforce the fencing. A log and rock barrier was built around the exhibit’s large pond, to prevent the hogs from falling in. And we constructed a concrete drinking bowl for the hogs, because they tend to play with anything light enough to move, including rubber water bowls.

A nyala and red river hog share an inquisitive moment on the first day of face-to-face intros. (Image: Mammal Curator Keith Zdrojewski)

A nyala and red river hog share an inquisitive moment on the first day of face-to-face intros. (Image: Mammal Curator Keith Zdrojewski)

With the habitat ready, we worked on avoiding possible conflict at the gates when the animals “shifted” in and out between the exhibit and their night quarters. We ring a bell and reward the nyala with their favorite treats at the bottom of the exhibit. They quickly learned to come toward the bell when rung. This training provided us a method to pull the nyala away from the top shifting gate when the hogs would be let through.

The next step of the introduction was getting the hogs comfortable and familiar with the area before meeting the nyala. Using a corral made of cattle panels covered with boards and wire mesh, the habitat was divided in half and the hogs were given time to acclimate to each side. We introduced them to their own shifting cue by honking a horn and rewarding them when they shifted in and out.

Though the hogs and nyala can see each other in their night quarters, we also gave them a chance to see and smell each other up close with the protection of the corral. We believed this interaction would give some indication of how the two groups would co-exist. There was some interest from both groups, but no aggressive behaviors were observed, and they soon ignored each other. This was a good sign, so we decided to move forward.

Log piles and large branches were placed around the habitat, so animals being chased would have something to put between them and their pursuer. The corral panels were removed to open the space up so individuals couldn’t be trapped.

It can be hard to predict how animals will react during new introductions and we always prepare for incidents, but this went extremely well. There were a couple of brief disagreements, but no chasing or serious altercations. As a result, the hogs now enjoy spending time in a new home with new friends.

Letting the animals become accustomed to their new surroundings and the sight and smell of other animals before putting them together help ensure successful introductions, and we greatly appreciate the patience of our visitors during this process. Next time you visit the Dallas Zoo, be sure to ride the Adventure Safari monorail and see how the nyala and red river hogs are doing together!

Categories: Mammals, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Dallas Zoo wins international award for protecting wild gorillas

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The Dallas Zoo and eight other Association of Zoos & Aquariums institutions have been recognized with a prestigious national award for conservation work protecting gorillas in the wild.

We received AZA’s 2016 International Conservation Award for our work with GRACE – the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center. GRACE was created in 2009 to protect Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s the only facility of its kind in the world.

The conservation award recognizes exceptional efforts toward habitat preservation, species restoration and support of biodiversity in the wild. We received the award in collaboration with Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Houston Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Nashville Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo and Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

The Dallas Zoo is a longtime supporter of GRACE financially, through volunteer work and donations. Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregggracve-award Hudson serves on GRACE’s board of directors and Mammal Curator Keith Zdrojewski is on the organization’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group. Last year, Zdrojewski traveled to the DRC to help GRACE design and build a corridor for the endangered gorillas.

“This award reinforces our commitment to conservation of animals all across the globe,” Hudson said. “Grauer’s gorillas are some of the most endangered animals on the planet, and the GRACE Project is playing a vital role in keeping these remarkable animals around for generations to come. We look forward to continuing to support these gorillas alongside this dedicated conservation group, as we do with partners around the world.”

Did you know: Our support of the gorillas’ rehabilitation in the DRC isn’t possible without the support of our community and the million-plus visitors who walk through our gates every year. The Dallas Zoo is non-profit organization, and a portion of every ticket purchased supports our conservation fieldwork partners, helping protect wild animals and wild places worldwide. We thank you, and so do the Grauer’s gorillas and other wildlife.

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

Green Tip #5: Helping you make sustainable palm oil choices

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For the last few years, around Halloween and Easter, we’ve updated you on candy companies committed to using certified sustainable palm oil (see our latest flyer below!). Palm oil is obtained from the fruit of the African and South American oil palm tree. Today, it’s found in about half the products sold in grocery stores, everything from cookies to toothpaste. The production of palm oil has ravaged habitats across the globe, especially in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. To create plantations to grow more palm trees, essential rainforest habitat is destroyed, leaving animals like orangutans and tigers without homes.

Thanks to efforts from concerned consumers and organized groups, such as the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), companies are changing their ways and beginning to use sustainably harvested palm oil. What does it mean when a company uses sustainable palm oil? The company is harvesting its palm oil from plantations that are certified by the RSPO. According to RSPO, “One of the most important RSPO criteria states no primary forests, or areas which contain significant concentrations of biodiversity (e.g. endangered species) or fragile ecosystems, or areas which are fundamental to meeting basic or traditional cultural needs of local communities (high conservation value areas), can be cleared.”

Here are a few tips to help you when shopping:

  1. Read labels. Look for the RSPO trademark to see if the palm oil in the product is certified sustainable.
  2. Download the Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping App from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. It allows you to scan product barcodes to determine if the company is “excellent,” “good,” or “needs improvement” in sustainable palm oil harvesting. Available in iTunes or Google Play.
  3. Download the RSPO app. It provides lists of products with sustainable palm oil. It also has a geo-location function that will help you find products near you, and will upload information about products at your local store. Available in iTunes or Google Play.
  4. If you don’t see the RSPO trademark and you can’t find the product on either app, check out the ingredients. Sometimes palm oil may be listed under other names. If you see one of these ingredients, and haven’t found any information on how the product uses sustainable palm oil, it probably is not sustainable.
    • PKO – Palm Kernel Oil
    • FP(K)O – Fractionated Palm Oil
    • OPKO – Organic Palm Kernel Oil
    • Palmitate – Vitamin A or Asorbyl Palmitate
    • Palmate
    • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
    • Elaeis Guineensis
    • Glyceryl Stearate
    • Stearic Acid
    • Steareth -2
    • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
    • Hydrated palm glycerides
    • Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye

We realize there are many issues to think about when shopping, but buying products with sustainable palm oil is a good place to start. As a conservation organization, the plight of rainforests and their inhabitants is critically important to us, and educating our guests is one way we work towards our mission of conserving wildlife and inspiring a passion for nature. We encourage you to do your research and educate your friends and family, too, on sustainable palm oil!

(Learn more about how you can be a part of Dallas Zoo’s Green Team.)

Below is a list of treats made with certified sustainable palm oil that help protect the homes of rainforest wildlife.

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Categories: Conservation, Tigers | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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