Mammals

Saving endangered gorillas takes all of us

What do you think they’re talking out?

Lower Wilds of Africa zookeeper, Will Bookwalter, guest-blogs on ZooHoo! 

Gorillas have an otherworldly presence, there is just something incredibly special about them – size, majesty, silence that speaks volumes.

The deep chorus of rumbles through a happy troop breaks the hush of an otherwise ominously quiet setting. I sometimes describe it like the moments before a thunderstorm rolls in – there’s a certain force around you that you can’t quite identify and your stomach sinks with anticipation.

Subira is our incredible silver back over our family troop.

Sharing a moment with them is immensely humbling; just a brief second of eye contact is enough to lock you into their world for life and it’s an honor to be there.

The story of gorillas cannot be told without the story of humans. Our lives are intertwined in both the best and worst of ways, but we have the opportunity to effect change and a movement is taking shape across the globe.

A small part of the force that once destroyed habitats and populations has now pivoted to try and save what’s left, those people hope to protect the global treasures that live within the forests of Africa. Many have now learned that the crack of a rifle in the forest is far less valuable than the shutter of a camera. And in that regard, many former poachers have joined the elite corps of rangers who risk their lives everyday to protect the gorillas we have left.

While these brave men and women keep their boots-on-the-ground, standing across the battlefield from poachers, militias, and warlords, each one of us can have our own positive impact on gorilla populations right here at home. We all have the power to create a better world for gorillas.

Staggering numbers 

There are actually four types of gorillas, two species that each have two subspecies. The gorillas we care for

in AZA-accredited zoos are all Western lowland gorillas. In the wild, their population has dropped to 125,000 individuals; they’re classified by the IUCN as critically endangered. The other three subspecies aren’t as lucky. It’s believed there are only 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas left (our partner GRACE is working to save them); Eastern mountain gorillas are struggling with just 880 individuals remaining; and the Cross River gorillas are barely holding on with as few as 100 animals left.

Amani is an orphaned Guarer’s gorilla, living with our partner, the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), in the Congo.

But, wait! There’s good news on the horizon. Not only can we help, we ARE helping!

According to our conservation partner, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, mountain gorilla populations in Bwindi National Forest, Uganda, have actually increased from 302 individuals to no less than 400 between 2006 and 2012. Five years after the last census, we’re still trending upwards.

Gorillas don’t have any true natural predators. From time-to-time they may encounter a leopard interested in a youngster, but the silverback will protect the troop with his 500-pound frame and two-in-a-half inch canine teeth. Unfortunately, the remaining threats to gorillas are all human. In a way, that can be viewed as a positive. You can’t explain conservation to a leopard, but human behavior can be changed, and beliefs and opinions can be swayed with new information.

Gorillas are poached for many reasons, for example, bushmeat is an issue we often encounter. People kill and eat lots of endangered animals, gorillas are certainly included. And while their meat is valuable, bio-facts like hands, feet, and skulls can fetch much more on the black market.

The wildlife trade is a problem born purely out of greed and corruption, and we’re watching animals go extinct before our eyes in the name of trophies and pseudo-science. At the lowest levels of these operations, human lives are destroyed, as well, in order to feed and protect families, while war lords and corrupt politicians enjoy the luxuries that come along with exploitation.

With issues like these, simple conversations go a long way in changing minds. Consumers can sometimes be persuaded to stop purchasing items, like rhino horn and elephant ivory. There are a million different ways we can use our purchasing power to protect these precious habitats. Everyday electronics that we use contain minerals, like gold and coltan, mined in the areas where our gorillas live, and the vicious cycle begins there.

The trade of conflict minerals destroys the lives of humans and animals alike, and most of us have no idea the pain, struggle, and loss that goes into the obtaining the components of a new laptop.

We have proven before the power of the consumer, we are rapidly taking steps to convince companies to use sustainably sourced products across the entire spectrum of
manufacturing. As I mentioned above, each one of us truly does have the power to change the world.

On this historic World Gorilla Day, we hope you will join us at the Dallas Zoo, today through Sept. 26, to support our initiatives to raise $10,000 to protect these incredible gentle giants of the forest. Looking into a gorilla’s eyes, we can all see a reflection of ourselves. We share so much with these amazing animals, it’s time we share some of ourselves with our hallowed cousins. Together, we truly can create a better world for gorillas.

BREAKING NEWS: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering rolling back a rule that helps protect wildlife, like critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, from the effects of illegal mining operations. Tell them NO on conflict mineral amendment in #HR3354. Add your voice HERE. 

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

Six months with lion cub Bahati & the journey to get here

 

The lucky one

Guests have fallen in love with our now 6-month-old Bahati Moja, the first lion cub born at the Dallas Zoo in 43 years. Her birth on St. Patrick’s Day this year via a scheduled C-section left nothing to chance. The positive outcome was the result of a well-coordinated and meticulously planned group effort between our animal care, veterinary, and nutrition teams.

Planning for baby

The veterinary team knew that Bahati’s mother, Lina, has a narrow pelvic canal and small hips, which had resulted in two stillborn cubs during her previous pregnancy. Once keepers noticed Lina breeding with Kamau, the planning began to try to ensure a healthy pregnancy and birth. The team determined the safest option for mom and baby would be a scheduled C-section. Then the staff planned out 105-110 days, the length of lion gestation, so that full veterinary and carnivore care teams could be on hand for the day of delivery.

Bahati nuzzles up to mom Lina.

When the big day finally arrived, all the careful planning paid off. The veterinary team performed a by-the-book C-section and ran into no issues during the procedure. Bahati was strong and vocal immediately after birth. Mother and cub returned to the carnivore barn soon after delivery so Lina could wake up from anesthesia, recover from surgery, and meet her cub in familiar surroundings. Keepers bottle-fed Bahati a special formula the first few days until mom fully recovered, but Lina showed excellent maternal instincts and took over care just 30 hours after her operation.

Meeting benchmarks

Bahati has been consistently gaining two to three pounds per week, and now weighs 60 pounds. In addition to nursing, the little predator now gets her own diet of bones and ground meat. In the wild, these carnivorous cats are opportunistic feeders and prey on zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, antelope, and other sources of meat.

This smart cub has mastered shifting from her yard to the barn and is working on target training, lying down, and sitting during voluntary training session with keepers. Soon she will advance to presenting her paws for inspection and conducting blood draws on her tail. Guests can watch her progress during training demonstrations at Predator Rock in our Giants of the Savanna habitat.

During a weighing session, newborn Bahati sticks her head out of the scale box.

Social life

Since lions are the only true social species of big cats, females tend to work together to raise all the cubs in their pride. It’s no surprise, then,  that aunt Jasiri enjoys her wild and playful niece and often helps Lina by babysitting. Even dad, Kamau, is playing a part in rearing the cub. When Bahati practices her stalking on Kamau’s thick mane and tail, dad is loving but stern in his response.

Bahati is putting her climbing skills to good use, exploring the rocks and hills in her habitat and climbing over mom, dad, and aunt Jasiri. In Africa, lions will lounge underneath trees to escape the heat and insects, and you’ll often see the same with our pride here.

Purr-fectly adorable

You may hear Bahati mew and growl, but it will still take a few more months for her to develop a full roar. As she grows, she’ll lose the spots of a newborn and will develop a full tail tuft. Come to Predator Rock – or the Serengeti Grill windows – to see our new pride and joy for yourself!

Bahati was born via C-section.
Bahati was born via C-section.
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Categories: Africa, Lion | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo closes its Australia section ahead of TxDOT’s Southern Gateway project

We’re saying farewell to our Australian animals ahead of TxDot’s Southern Gateway I-35/US 67 project that will improve 11 miles of highway, including part of I-35 adjacent to the Dallas Zoo. The three Australian habitats, located within ZooNorth’s Koala Walkabout, are in the closest proximity to the construction project.

As you know, the comfort and welfare of our residents comes first, and we’ve found new AZA-accredited homes to ensure the interstate improvements cause no disruption to the animals. 

The closure includes the koala habitat, Lorikeet Landing, and the kangaroo, wallaby, emu and kookaburra habitats. The last day you can visit these animals will be Monday, Sept. 4. And we hope you’ll join us this Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 2-3) as we host “Farewell Australia Weekend.”

Here on loan from San Diego Zoo since March 2012, koalas Tekin and Gummy will head back to their Southern California home. Our male and female Western gray kangaroos will also be moving to San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park.

Staying in Texas, our flock of lorikeets are moving to the San Antonio Zoo, and two wallabies will call the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin home. Our brother-sister kookaburra pair will move to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.

“The safety and well-being of our animals is always our top priority,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo president and CEO.  “We’ve been working with TxDot on the highway improvement plans for a while now, and appreciate TxDot addressing some of our concerns. As part of the construction, TxDot will install a high sound barrier that will reduce noise, dust in other parts of ZooNorth, and will benefit our guests and animals in the area.

“Thankfully we had plenty of time to find great homes for these animals. We know the public will miss them as much as we will.”

“Farewell Australia Weekend” activities from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sept. 2-3 include:

–          Special keeper chats at 10 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. at Koala Walkabout

–          Sign a card to wish koalas Tekin and Gummy farewell

–          Participate in a “Can you jump as far as a macropod?” activity

–          Enjoy a coloring activity featuring the Australian animals

Categories: Australia, Koala | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo partners with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to foster change in Rwanda

Every morning, more than 100 trackers set out from the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda to protect nearly half of the nation’s mountain gorilla population. The trackers monitor the gorillas round-the-clock, serving as the first line of defense against poachers. Each individual tracker is assigned a gorilla group; it is their job to locate group members and record data used to study the species. This continued daily commitment is what it takes to ensure the survival of critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Dallas Zoo based Fossey Fund board members at headquarters in Rwanda with Tara Stoinski

The Dallas Zoo and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International are in this battle together, pledging resources, time, and efforts toward gorilla conservation. Established in 1978, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has dedicated nearly 50 years to protecting mountain gorilla populations. As a result, mountain gorillas are the only species of ape whose numbers are slowly increasing; how ever, with less than 900 individuals remaining, this species is still critically endangered. And at the Dallas Zoo, we’re honored to support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as one of our conservation partners.

In January, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund President and CEO/Chief Science Officer Tara Stoinski spoke during a Dallas Zoo Wild Earth Conservation Lecture held at the Angelika Film Center here in Dallas. In addition, she gave an inspiring talk for Dallas Zoo keepers and staff about the Fund’s latest developments and updates on the animals they protect. But the story doesn’t stop there.

Gregg Hudson, president and CEO of the Dallas Zoo, currently is the immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, in which he’s been a member since 2007. In celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary, he and the rest of the board of trustees traveled to Rwanda in late February to meet the partners of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund who are working in the wild. This group also included two of the Fossey Funds newest Trustees – Dallas Zoo board member Diane Brierley and the Zoo’s Special Counsel Bill Evans.

Tara Stoinski speaks to staff at the Dallas Zoo

“It’s amazing to take what we do at zoos, our special talents, and apply them to other meaningful organizations. Zoos are a conduit from our communities to these important, large-scale projects. We have a responsibility to go beyond our gates and be involved in wildlife initiatives outside of the Zoo,” explained Hudson.

Once in the heart of the Virunga Mountains, the trustees embarked on treks through the Rwandan bush to see both gorillas and golden monkeys.

This amazing experience also highlighted the Fund’s numerous health, education, and economic development initiatives, which encourage Africans to become conservation leaders. The trustees visited community education and health projects in Bisate Village and spent a gratifying afternoon with the Karisoke trackers.

Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregg Hudson hikes through the African bush to see gorillas

“I am just blown away by what the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund does. It’s one of the longest, continuous field projects in the world. On top of that, it’s connected to this incredible community in Rwanda where they have helped build a health clinic and create educational programs at local schools. Gorillas are fascinating animals, but the impact of the Fossey Fund on the community is incredible, too,” Hudson said.

The trip culminated with a reception at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Erica J. Barks-Ruggles, an eminent supporter of gorilla conservation, fostering hope for the future of a troubled species.

Hudson’s trip emphasizes the importance of partnerships like those between the Zoo and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as they bring together conservationists from around the world to collectively further research and prevent species extinction.

“The Rwandan people see gorillas as part of what makes their nation special. I feel a lot of personal pride for helping with each new sustainable, long-term initiative. It’s a rare and fulfilling chance to create a legacy project that will help gorillas in the future,” Hudson stated.

Learn more about how you can support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s conservation efforts by symbolically adopting a gorilla.

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

Meet our world renowned okapi herd

For the past 50 years, we’ve been working with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) to substantially increase the population of these endangered “African unicorns” in human care. Nearly 75 percent of all okapi in the SSP are related to Dallas Zoo offspring, and in our history we’ve welcomed 36 calves!

Though they’ve been off exhibit during the construction of the Simmons Hippo Outpost, you can now view these solitary creatures in two different yards. Learn about our six okapi and how to tell who’s who!

Kwanini

Kwanini is a dedicated and attentive mother who was born at the Dallas Zoo when the Wilds of Africa originally opened. Nearly 27 years old, she’s given birth to 7 calves, including Ikenge, a son who still lives here.

Although shy around other adult herd members, Kwanini is a caring, maternal figure. She enjoys interacting with calves and grooming them (and occasionally keepers) with her rough tongue.

You can recognize Kwanini by her deep chocolate coloring and very defined brows.

Kwanini (pictured left) with son Ikenge

Niko

Niko was born at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida and arrived in 2000 at the age of three as a breeding male. His father was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, making his genetics extremely valuable to the SSP. Since 2001, he’s fathered 7 calves.

Known as the friendliest okapi ever encountered by our keepers, he’ll seek out the company of keepers and happily approach strangers for a head rub, which is atypical for this solitary species. In fact, Niko’s developed an interesting habit of bobbing his head at other animals and staff to get their attention.

Niko is tall, dark, and handsome. He’s especially recognizable by his ossicones, which are only about 2 inches long because he likes rubbing them on trees and branches.

Niko

Desi

Desi was born at Dallas Zoo in 1999, and is now almost 18 years old. She is currently our primary breeding female, and has birthed two calves. As the herd’s dominant, leading lady, the other okapi will submit to her—even the males! She is very comfortable and confident around keepers, and enjoys a good neck or ear rub.

Desi learns very quickly and has been known to playfully test new staff members by not shifting (moving to a new space when asked) unless she is offered a treat. Though strong-willed, she’s a sweet girl.

Look for Desi’s mahogany face and fuzzy fringe around her ears.

Desi

Uche

Uche is 6 years old and will begin introductions with females this summer as an up-and-coming breeding male. Born at San Diego Safari Park, he came to Dallas 3 years ago as Desi’s mate. He is often shy around female okapi, though enjoys saying howdy to them through stall windows.

Upon first meeting, Uche appears aloof, but warms up quickly to familiar faces. When he first arrived, he was not fond of touching or direct feeding, but our keepers have earned his trust, and he now willfully approaches them to have his ears and ossicones scratched. He’s a quick learner with training, too.

You’ll notice Uche’s very light face and thick ossicones. Still a rather young okapi, he is smaller than the other males and females.

Uche

Ikenge

Ikenge was born at Dallas Zoo to mother Kwanini and father Niko. At only five years old, he’s still a little shy, but loving and playful nonetheless. When he isn’t visiting mom through the stalls, you’ll find him energetically running around the habitat.

This little calf is very trusting and will follow keepers into new areas without hesitation. He appreciates being groomed by other okapi and his keepers, and enjoys training sessions and time out on exhibit.

Although he is short, Ikenge is very muscular. Look for his dark face and long eyelashes.

Ikenge

Kilua

Kilua is the newest addition to our herd and our youngest. She was born in Cincinnati, but came to become a primary breeding female in the future. But don’t let her age fool you—Kilua is one of the largest okapi our keepers have ever seen.

A gentle giant, she is both brave and friendly. Kilua likes to interact with people, and happily tolerates hoofwork. Though calm, she is still playful at heart and enjoys enrichment items, like her bamboo curtain and puzzle feeder.

Kilua is huge, weighing in at nearly 800 lbs. With her massive frame, you’ll easily be able to identify her.

Kilua

Visit our okapi herd in person, and learn more about this unique species during an okapi keeper chat, occurring daily at 2:15 p.m.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Okapi | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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