Chimpanzee

Fission-Fusion: Giving chimps choices

Zookeeper Will Bookwalter guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

Keepers and animal management staff always look for ways to improve the welfare of the animals we care for — that’s our job! We work with zoos and animal experts from all over the world to stay ahead of the curve with our animal management programs.

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Young Kona watches on while Mookie eats. Waiting for a bite perhaps?

Recently, the Dallas Zoo chimpanzee keepers have embarked on a new challenge to help enhance the lives of our chimps, keep a healthy social dynamic, and, most importantly, let the chimps make decisions.

“Fission-Fusion” is a fancy title for how chimpanzee troops function in the wild. Troops can range from 25-100 chimps, and throughout the course of the day they will split up (fission) and come back together (fusion). There are a few reasons why this happens, but the biggest one is simply this: resources.

Think of it like this: You made lunch for five of your friends, but 25 show up. You can’t feed everybody, so most of those friends will have to split up into smaller groups and go find their own food.

Chimps also will split up so males can protect the troop. They’ll patrol the perimeter of the territory, making sure the troop is safe and that no rivals are invading. Throughout the day, the whole troop will split into smaller factions and spend the day doing what chimps do best —eating, sleeping, grooming, and playing. The most important thing for chimpanzees is their social bond with one another. Spending time together grooming, sharing food, playing, and helping to raise the kids keeps relationships strong and peace in the troop.

Six-year-old Kona joins mom Ramona and little brother Mshindi on their favorite tree branch.

Six-year-old Kona joins mom Ramona and little brother Mshindi on their favorite tree branch.

With chimpanzees being so socially motivated, it can sometimes be tough to keep that peace. Chimps have a very complex social dynamic, and that often can lead to conflict. In recent years, some zoos in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (our accrediting organization) decided to try something different: letting the chimps decide where they want to go.

The normal morning routine is a gentle wakeup call from the keepers, and once we’ve checked on everyone, each receives a multi-vitamin and anything else they need. Then keepers clean the habitat, make sure everything is safe and in working order, and scatter their morning diet across the habitat. Then the chimps are sent out to eat, play, and relax with the troop.

This system has worked well, but when we heard about the success other zoos had with Fission-Fusion, we decided it was time to give it a try.

Mookie receives a kiss from Ramona.

Mookie receives a kiss from Ramona.

The way a Fission-Fusion system works in a zoo is similar to how it works in the wild, the only difference being that keepers need to help the chimps get where they want to go. Instead of sending all the chimps out together, some chimps may rather spend time with a different individual. Or perhaps they don’t feel like being around other individuals in the troop, so they can decide not to be.

The chimps tell us where they want to be by going to a certain area, or hanging back when the rest of the troop moves. For example, we know that if Mookie and Doyle, two of our adult males, don’t want to come in with the troop that evening, they’ll wait next to a different chute. Then they can come in to the other side of the building for some peace and quiet. In the morning, Mookie and Doyle will go back with the troop.

We decided to begin using this system is to help our eldest chimps, Bon Bon, Missy, and Doyle, get a break from our rambunctious youngster, Kona. At 6, Kona’s quite a handful, and while the older chimps spend lots of time playing with the youngsters, sometimes they need a break. So under Fission-Fusion, each morning we let the chimps decide if they want to stay in with a couple of others, or go out to the habitat.

50-year-old chimp Missy basks in the sun.

50-year-old chimp Missy basks in the sun.

The chimps who stay inside have access to our patio for some sunshine and plenty of activities to stay busy. And it lets keepers spend lots of time training. Training is one of the most important things we do with our chimps. We do simple things, such as asking the chimps to present different parts of their body, all the way up to really complicated behaviors, such as holding still for an ultrasound of their heart or belly.

Every training session helps keep these behaviors sharp, meaning we can always ensure the best care. The chimps who go out on habitat get plenty of perks, too. They can forage for food and browse, enjoy the sunshine (and the shade), and play, groom, and relax with the troop.

At nearly two-years-old, Mshindi will remain close to mom for the next few years.

At nearly two-years-old, Mshindi will remain close to mom for the next few years.

We’re so proud of how quickly our chimps caught on! Basing our expectations and our initial plans on what the other zoos had experienced, we expected it to take six months for our chimps to learn the system, and we expected a few hiccups along the way. The No. 1 rule with primates is adaptability, and we were ready for anything.

However, as primates always seem to do, they threw the one curveball we never thought we’d see: they learned to make their own choices on who they wanted to spend their time with in a little over two weeks! We weren’t sure how to react, so we decided to go with wild excitement.

This system is ever-changing. No two days are the same here at the zoo, and the animals are very good at keeping us on our toes. Being primates ourselves, we must always be ready to adapt, solve problems as they arise, and come up with the best solutions. One thing’s for sure: With help from our awesome chimps, the Dallas Zoo can continue to raise the bar and help other zoos all over the world create the best possible environments for the animals.

Categories: Africa, Chimpanzee, Zookeepers | Leave a comment

10 animals who wear fall well

Forget the flannel, cable-knit sweaters, and scarves – no one knows fall style better than the animal kingdom. We’re laying down some fall fashion with 10 animals who make this season look better than ever.

1. African crowned cranes rock autumn’s trendiest hairdo like fall royalty. They sport a golden crown of feathers atop their head, distinguishing them from other cranes. Their red neck wattle adds a nice splash of color, too.

African Crowned Crane2. A creature that resembles a large, ripe tomato deserves a major autumn accolade. Tomato frogs are brightly colored to warn predators that they’re not good to eat – but we think they’re juicily good-looking.

_MG_9734 Tomato Frog CB3. Giraffes’ spotted coats prove nature has a sense of style. Within all nine giraffe subspecies, each individual’s markings are as unique as our fingerprints. The reticulated giraffe subspecies, which you’ll find at our Zoo, sports a dark coat with a beautiful web of fine white lines.

4. Because no other animal can model a bed of fall leaves as adorably as our African pygmy hedgehog. These tiny guys use their coat of spines to escape predators – they’ll curl up into a tight ball and their spines will raise, forming a protective barrier.

Hedgehog-African Pygmy5. African red river hogs got it goin’ on. From their striking coloration and prominent tassels on their ears, to the hairy white Mohawk running along their spine, these hogs wear fall like no other.

Red River Hog Hank6. Yellow and black has never looked so good. Amiright? Tiger salamanders’ colors and markings vary throughout their wide North American range, but their most common marking resembles the striped pattern of their big cat namesake.

Tiger Salamander7. Golden lion tamarins rock nature’s fieriest coat. These small monkeys get their name from their vibrant reddish-orange fur and the long hair round their face that forms a perfect mane.

IMG_1599 Golden Lion Tamarin CS8. The chestnut-breasted malkoha manages to flaunt every fall color flawlessly. Males and females have near identical plumage, and wear those red eye patches like bosses.

ChestnutBreastedMalkohaMilkyEyelashes9. Tigers totally own fall. Their symbolic stripes act as camouflage in high grasses or dense forests. Sumatran tigers, like our boy Kipling, have the darkest orange coat of any tiger subspecies.

Kipling10. Thanks to our fall-loving chimps, playing in foliage has never looked so good.

Categories: Birds, Chimpanzee, Giraffe, Mammals, Monkey, Reptiles and Amphibians, Tigers | Leave a comment

WRAP-UP: Our 2014 bundles of joy

The delivery stork had a direct flight path to the Dallas Zoo last year! With more than 2,000 animals, we often welcome little ones. From (really) long-legged babies to ones the size of your palm, here’s a roundup of some of our exciting and noteworthy births in 2014:

TASANEE: Born Jan. 25, Asian small-clawed otter Tasanee needed more than 100 days of devoted care from her keepers, because single otter pups usually don’t survive. Tasanee weighed just a little over 2 ounces at birth, about the size of a “C” battery. She’s now a healthy five pounds and is full of sass! She’s very close with her parents Jimmy and Daphane who can often be seen diving deep down into their pools together or snoozing away, cuddled up with each other.

Otter Tasanee gets the hang of swimming with mom Daphne.

Otter Tasanee gets the hang of swimming with mom Daphne.

MSHINDI: Look at that face! Still very much a baby, Mshindi turned one year old on Jan. 26. For another two years or so, he’ll remain completely dependent on his mother, Ramona, for care. He’s now eating small amounts of food (bananas are his favorite), but also will nurse for another few years. Mshindi is the ninth member of the troop, and the first baby born since his brother, Kona, arrived in 2009. He’s added a positive dynamic to the troop’s complex social structure, especially with Kona, who has proven to be a great big brother.

1-year-old Mshindi swings from the habitat ropes./Daniel Zappia

1-year-old Mshindi swings from the habitat ropes./Daniel Zappia

OBI: Born March 28, Obi is the first mandrill baby at the Zoo in 24 years. This little guy has a lot of energy and is often seen bouncing all over his habitat, throwing small branches in the air and playing peek-a-boo with guests. Monkeys develop much faster than great ape babies, like chimp Mshindi. Obi no longer nurses and is now completely independent from mom Saffron. But she’s still the little guy’s favorite playmate (she has incredible patience!). 

Little mandrill Obi will celebrate his 1st birthday March 28.

Little mandrill Obi will celebrate his 1st birthday March 28.

KOSOKO: This kori bustard chick still has some growing to do before he officially becomes the largest flying bird on Earth, weighing nearly 40 pounds. Born June 25 at just a half a pound, Kosoko is now a healthy 15 pounds. After multiple years of trying, Kosoko is the first surviving offspring for his parents — which is where he gets his name. From the African Yoruba language in Nigeria, “kosoko” means “child born after mother has had other children die.” It’s meant as a prayer for babies’ survival — and we couldn’t be more thankful for Kosoko’s health and well-being.

Kori bustard chick Kosoko will grow up to 40 pounds.

Kori bustard chick Kosoko will grow up to 40 pounds.

KOPANO: We welcomed this leggy, 6-foot-tall baby Oct. 26. Born weighing about 120 pounds, Kopano is now nearly 8 feet tall and over 300 pounds! He’s starting to munch on vegetation like mom, but will keep nursing until he’s about a year old. He’s doing great mixing with the other species in his habitat, including impala, ostriches and guineafowl. He’s also still meeting all 11 members of his herd. Guests can often see him running laps around his habitat while mom Chrystal eats.

Four-month old Kopano is already nearly 8 feet tall!

Four-month-old Kopano is already nearly 8 feet tall!

 

Categories: Africa, Birds, Chimpanzee, Conservation, Giraffe, Mammals, Mandrill, Otter | Leave a comment

Longtime animal couples set the bar for love

It’s not just humans who show love and affection toward each other. During this season of love, we wanted to share with you some of our longtime animal couples who just can’t get enough of each other. Humans: take note of these inspiring, lovable partnerships.

Mason & Julius: These gibbons have been together for four years, earning the name “the newlyweds” by their keepers. While they haven’t had a baby yet, Mason and Julius couldn’t be more bonded. Gibbons are one of the few serial monogamous primates. These two are constantly hugging and cuddling — making some of the simplest tasks, like separating them to work on training techniques, nearly impossible for their keepers.

Gibbons Mason and Julius share a sweet embrace./Dallas Zoo

Gibbons Mason and Julius share a sweet embrace./Dallas Zoo

Cory & Bolivia: Together for more than 13 years, with 11 babies together, these titi monkeys know how to keep the love going! Adult titi monkeys form lifelong partnerships. Cory and Bolivia are often seen sitting in the Primate Place treetops with their tails intertwined while they groom one another. Cory is very protective of his leading lady and can’t stand to be away from her for very long.

Titi monkeys Cory & Bolivia caught on the "kiss cam!"/Dallas Zoo

Titi monkeys Cory & Bolivia caught on the “kiss cam”/Dallas Zoo

Curtis & Darlene: These true “love bids” have been together for six years and remain a very affectionate and faithful couple. Guest favorites in Travis & Zach’s Birds Landing, cockatiels Curtis and Darlene have hatched four chicks together. The duo and their offspring are usually the first to greet visitors as they walk into the aviary, even if they don’t buy food! Curtis likes to woo guests with his whistle song and preen their hair. Darlene’s a cool chick and never gets jealous — she usually watches his antics from atop the nearest guest’s head or shoulder.

Cockatiels Curtis and Darlene share a meal together./Dallas Zoo

Cockatiels Curtis and Darlene share a meal together./Dallas Zoo

Batt & Carol Lee: Brought together in 2005, Batt didn’t need to court Carol Lee – there was an instant attraction. And shortly after meeting, their three pups were born. Batt is one of the oldest Asian small-clawed otters on record, at almost 19 years old. As he’s aged, he’s developed sight issues but Carol Lee has proved to be a loyal partner, guiding him with a nudge of her nose and bringing him food. The two can be seen sharing quite a few snuggly naps together.

Otters Batt and Carol Lee cuddling during a nap./Dallas Zoo

Otters Batt and Carol Lee cuddling during a nap./Dallas Zoo

Ramona & KC: Ramona came to the Zoo in 2006 and instantly caught KC’s eye. Three years later, they welcomed little Kona. KC also may be the father of 1-year-old Mshindi, but we’re awaiting paternity results to confirm. Their relationship has its ups and downs just like any, but they show sweet moments of affection, which make for great photo opportunities!

KC and Ramona hug with little Mshindi in between./Dallas Zoo

KC and Ramona hug with little Mshindi in between./Dallas Zoo

 

Categories: Africa, Birds, Chimpanzee, Monkey, Otter | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BIRTHDAY BASH! Dallas Zoo celebrates chimp & otter’s 1st birthdays

 

Chimp Mshindi at 6 months old/Keeper Will Bookwalter

Chimp Mshindi at 6 months old/Keeper Will Bookwalter

Born one day apart, guest favorites Mshindi & Tasanee turn one

WHAT: Our babies are growing up! The Dallas Zoo is throwing a first birthday party bash for chimp Mshindi and Asian small-clawed otter Tasanee tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 24), and everyone’s invited. The first 100 guests at both habitats will receive a free mini-cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Join us at 10 a.m. at the decorated Kimberly-Clark Chimpanzee Forest, as we sing “Happy Birthday” while Mshindi and his eight troop members tear into a massive, chimp face-shaped birthday cake filled with his favorite treats. Shortly after at 10:45 a.m. at the Betty Moroney Norsworthy Otter Outpost, we’ll sing to Tasanee as she and her parents dive into her floating sashimi boat loaded with her favorite food.

Otter Tasanee at 3 months old gets the hang of swimming/Dallas Zoo

Otter Tasanee at 3 months old gets the hang of swimming/Dallas Zoo

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 24. Schedule:

10 a.m.: Birthday cake presentation at Chimpanzee Forest in Wilds of Africa

10:45 a.m.: Birthday cake presentation at Otter Outpost in ZooNorth

WHERE: 650 S. R.L. Thornton Freeway

WHY: Born just one day apart, Mshindi and Tasanee’s births have been major success stories for their endangered species. Asian small-clawed otter Tasanee beat the odds to survive; she needed more than 100 days of devoted care from her keepers, because single otter pups usually do not make it. Chimp Mshindi has been an integral addition to the now nine-member troop. He’s the first baby since his brother, Kona, arrived in 2009, adding a positive dynamic to the troop’s complex social structure.

 

 

 

Categories: Africa, Chimpanzee, Conservation, Enrichment, Events, Media, Otter | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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