Mammals

Hockaday high school students monkey around with primate enrichment

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Hockaday students present their enrichment devices at the Zoo

Hockaday students present their enrichment devices at the Zoo

For most high school students, the semester is filled with standard classes like calculus, biology, english, and history – but a group of five Hockaday students can proudly add monkeying around with STEM to their academic repertoire.

President and CEO Gregg Hudson congratulates the students on their hard work

President and CEO Gregg Hudson congratulates the students on their hard work

It all began with a unique partnership between the Zoo and the Hockaday School. Several Hockaday students were already involved in our Teen Science Café and Zoo Corps group, so it only seemed natural to find a way to further engage other students, using Zoo related problem solving.

“We value long-term partnerships like this because they can result in a deeper connection with the Zoo’s conservation mission. As the students delve into their projects and learn more about the animals they are helping, they can come away feeling more connected to the animals, which is important since their generation does and will have so many opportunities to make a positive difference for species worldwide,” said Dallas Zoo’s director of Education Marti Copeland.

The Hockaday School had just the person for taking on this wild task. Science teacher Leon de Oliveira began a brand new course for the semester entitled “Community Impact by Design.” The class allowed students to work in small groups while engaging in the design and engineering process in order to solve a problem. This year’s challenge: find a creative way to encourage small primates to use more vertical space in their exhibit.

Keepers put Wendy's and Kate's treat shaker to the test

Keeper Audra C. put Wendy’s and Kate’s treat shaker to the test after filling it with food

How exactly does one prompt a primate to move onwards and upwards? Through enrichment, of course! However, Zoo staff left the designing fully up to the students. The class made multiple trips to the Zoo to observe their subjects while working closely with primate keepers and our education team. After multiple models and prototypes made out of various approved materials, the students were able to turn their ideas into actual enrichment items.

“I have just been blown away by their creativity and perseverance throughout the challenge. To see the whole process starting from their initial cardboard designs to the final product was incredible. What a transformation!” Education supervisor Courtney Jonescu said.

Hockaday seniors Wendy Ho and Kate Keough created a “treat shaker” out of PVC pipe. The capsule shaped item, designed to hang from a tree branch, has maze-like layers of plexiglass on the inside. Primates must shake the apparatus to move food through the levels until it falls out a small hole at the bottom in order to be consumed.

Sophomore Meredith Jones approached the task from a different perspective, developing a “treat tree” with branches for food pieces to hang. Primates must pull levers in order to release the tree, allowing it to sprout out of a PVC pipe and reveal more and more treats depending on which lever is activated.

Spider monkeys eagerly engage with the enrichment device

Spider monkeys eagerly engage with the enrichment device

Junior Annie Allen and senior Audrey Black cleverly worked together to craft a “ball box.” The cube-like structure is made of mesh and houses a second cube within it, filled with whiffle balls, which have perfectly sized holes for primates to reach their fingers into and attempt to work food out.

“You had to really think like a monkey and consider everything that they could do, like their strength,” Allen explained.

And think like a monkey they did! Wendy’s and Kate’s treat shaker was even put to the test on May 11 after the students presented their final enrichment deliverables to Zoo staff and interested onlookers. Keepers hung the device from a branch in the spider monkey habitat, warning that the primates might be somewhat shy to approach it – but the troop proved otherwise.

“The device worked exactly like the students hoped it would, and the spider monkeys were immediately interested in it. They looked down the tube through the plexiglass window, just like the girls imagined they would.  Then they manipulated the tube until yummy treats fell out of the flawlessly cut hole at the bottom. It turned out to be perfect and all of us were thrilled to see that,” said Jonescu.

We think the students deserve an A+ for their hard work, creativity, ingenuity – after all, it’s not every day that one receives the monkey seal of approval.

Categories: Education, Enrichment, Mammals, Monkey | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Teens launch cell phone recycling initiative to save gorillas

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_MG_9731-Hope gorilla w-logo CB

Dallas Zoo’s Zoo Corps youth-led conservation team guest-blogs on ZooHoo! Our group of 14 high school Corps members worked together to select a challenging conservation issue, develop a solution, and put it into action. Here’s their story.

In 2016 alone, nearly 1.5 billion smartphones were purchased around the world. And sadly, the ramifications of producing these small electronic devices is seriously harming wildlife habitat.

Every minute, 150 acres of rain forest is lost to deforestation, depriving animals of their homes and people of crucial resources. One major cause of habitat destruction in central Africa is the mining of the mineral coltan, which is widely used in common compact technology devices, such as cell phones. The plight of critically endangered gorillas, a species already challenged by a variety of issues, is further exacerbated when their habitat is destroyed for unsustainable cell phone production.

The Zoo Corps team is combating this issue by holding a cell phone recycling drive so Dallas Zoo visitors can bring in electronic items to be recycled. By salvaging and reprocessing usable pieces, this drive will play a part in reducing the demand for coltan, which, in turn, will help save gorillas and other forest animals.

Although this issue is daunting, we can help make a difference. During the Zoo’s Endangered Species Weekend, May 20-21, the first 50 Zoo visitors each day will receive a free Texas native tree to plant at home in exchange for an approved recyclable electronic! While supplies last, even those who are unable to bring their used technology may be able receive a tree at no cost by learning about deforestation and answering trivia questions throughout the weekend.

We ask everyone to participate in this exciting event by donating old cell phones and electronics! We’ll work with the conservation-minded company Eco-Cell to make sure your device is recycled.

And if you can’t make it out to Endangered Species Weekend, you can still recycle your small electronics any time you visit the Zoo. In the meantime, consider attending a tree planting session in partnership with the Texas Trees Foundation to help fight deforestation.

Here’s the low-down on how you can recycle your electronics at the Zoo.

What we can accept:Zoo Corps Coltan Infographic-01

  • Cell phones (smart phones and older cell phones)
  • iPods
  • iPads
  • Tablets
  • MP3 players
  • Handheld video games

We do NOT accept:

  • Desktop computers
  • Monitors
  • Laptops
  • Game consoles
  • Calculators

*Note: Apple, Best Buy, Staples, and other retailers will take larger items like these. Call your local store to find out more.

What to do with your device before dropping it off:

  1. Backup your device and save any data you want to keep, such as contacts, photos, or music.
  2. For security purposes, we recommend resetting the device and wiping all data. Specific instructions can be found online for various devices.
  3. Remove the case and/or screen protector.

Where can I drop off my device?

You may drop off your used devices with a staff member at the Membership Services booth, ticket booths, Information Booth. You may also leave them in the drop box at the Jake L. Hamon Gorilla Conservation Research Center at the Dallas Zoo while you’re here visiting our gorillas.

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

Happy first birthday, Ajabu: Looking back on a year of milestones for our baby elephant

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Ajabu enjoys a mud wallow session./Chandra Brooks

It was 7 a.m. on Saturday, May 15, 2016 – the Zoo was just waking up and keepers were filing in, when two elephant keepers shook the barn with squeals of joy as they discovered a little grey bouncing baby boy. Just hours before, elephant Mlilo had delivered a 175-pound, 3-foot-tall calf to our somewhat surprise.

The baby, already standing, nursing and totally unfazed, would be the first African elephant calf born in a U.S. AZA-accredited Zoo in more than two years.

The keepers quickly executed their, “Surprise! A baby’s been born!” procedures to ensure the vet and animal care teams were immediately aware of the newborn.

Baby Ajabu at just three days old.

Baby Ajabu at just three days old.

But, the one who knew exactly what she was doing, Mlilo, took it all in stride. She’d been growing this baby for nearly two years, and her maternal instincts were alive and kicked in right on cue. She was born for this.

Two months prior, Mlilo arrived aboard a chartered 747 jet from drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa, as part of an intricate airlift to save her and 16 other elephants from being culled. This, in turn, saved her AND her beautiful baby boy.

Our animal experts suspected Mlilo was pregnant, but all hormone testing came back inconclusive. Regardless, we were very careful with Mlilo’s day-to-day care, and were able to create the positive conditions surrounding Ajabu’s successful birth.

Estimated to be 15 years old, Mlilo arrived here thin and underweight, but better nutrition in just the few weeks leading up to her delivery helped her gain 300 crucial pounds. And over the course of the next five months, we allowed mom and baby much time to bond privately, and grow together, while we worked to “baby-proof” the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

As we celebrate this precious baby’s first birthday, we look back on the moments that truly take our breath away. And if you weren’t a fan already, we’re certain that over the past year, this rambunctious boy has made you fall in love with his vulnerable species.

We insist you binge watch:

  1. Captured on the barn cameras, Ajabu’s birth; mom’s gentle nudge encouraging baby to stand; his first steps; his first time nursing, will forever remain one of those “pinch us, we’re dreaming” moments. (And yes, utter disbelief caused much pinching.)
  2. That time newborn Ajabu wouldn’t let mom sleep, and Mlilo obliged with his antics Every. Single. Time. #MomGoals
  3. When baby Ajabu took his first dip in a kiddie pool and we thought there was nothing cuter. (We were quickly proven wrong. See No. 4.)
  4. Baby boy received his first ball and played so hard that food and water were the only things that could tear him away. Priorities.
  5. Another major first, the day Mlilo and Ajabu explored their “baby-proofed” habitat This was an unforgettable moment.
  6. Then seeing it all come full circle as baby Ajabu and Mlilo ventured into our largest habitat with other herd members.

Hmm, can you still call a 4-foot-tall, 800-pound, one-year-old elephant a “baby”? Actually, don’t answer. He’s our baby and always will be.

Ajabu, whose African name means “wonder,” “amazing” and “extraordinary” is a remarkable ambassador for his troubled species, inspiring guests daily to help find answers to the grave crisis elephants face in Africa. He represents so much.

He’s here because we took a chance, a major one. And the way children light up when they see his tiny trunk, his perfect ears, and hear his little trumpets – it’s unexplainable. Ajabu plays such a key role in inspiring our next generation of wildlife warriors to save species from extinction and ensure we never know a world without the majestic, powerful African elephant.

Happy first birthday to our baby boy Ajabu. You mean more to us than you will ever know.

And a thank you to Mlilo. You’re the kind of protective, playful, and present mother all moms wish they could be. Here’s to a very Happy Mother’s Day, mama Mlilo.

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

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. and hippo keeper chats at 11:15 a.m. 2:30 p.m. every day.
  • 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: | 3 Comments

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