Giraffe

3 strange and unusual animal mating rituals you need to know about

Madagascar hissing cockroaches have some pretty wacky mating rituals.

WARNING! This content is NSFW!…we’re only kidding, of course.

Dating and relationships can be complicated, confusing and downright weird. But if you think your significant other is behaving strangely, just wait until you hear about how things go down in the animal kingdom. Seriously though, we’re here to educate. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we thought you needed to know about these three absolutely abnormal animal mating rituals.

Tamanduas

Also known as lesser anteaters, tamanduas use their long snouts to sniff out ant, termite and bee colonies. They can eat up to 9,000 ants in a single day! Their long claws enable them to dig into nests and climb trees, and a long, sticky tongue licks up insects.

Tamanduas are solitary animals, until it’s time to find that special someone.

Tamanduas are solitary animals, until it’s time to find a mate. This typically occurs in the fall, and if the timing isn’t exactly right, tamanduas will either ignore each other completely or begin fighting. Totally relatable, right? Zoologists have to closely monitor their behavior to be sure they introduce the male and female at the exact right time. Then once breeding has completed, they need to be separated again pretty quickly, or else the fighting may continue. Basically, they just want to be left alone.

If successful, tamandua gestation lasts for 130-190 days. Babies are born with a solid-colored coat that looks pretty different from their mother’s, but they have those same large claws.

Our female outreach tamandua, Chispa recently gave birth to little Abrazo, who is cute as can be. Abrazo will ride on his mom’s back for about 6 months, and he’ll stay pretty close to her for about a year before beginning his own solitary life.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches

Madagascar hissing cockroaches aren’t anything like the roaches you may find in your apartment – as their name implies, these creepy-crawlers emit a hissing sound. Most insects that make noises do so by rubbing their body parts together (like crickets). However, the Madagascar hissing cockroach exhales air through spiracles, which are small holes in their abdomens. Male roaches will “hiss” to attract females, and females will emit an odor to let the males know they’re interested.

Once they find each other, the males further express interest by rubbing the antennae of the female. After successful breeding, the female will carry around the egg case, called an “ooethecas,” for a little over 2 months until the nymphs (baby cockroaches) hatch from the case.

Next time you’re at Bug U!, see if you can tell the males from the females — males have two horns on their thorax, and females do not.

Male giraffe will sample the urine of potential mates.

Giraffes

Giraffes are the world’s tallest land animal. Our tallest giraffe stands 17 feet tall! They may be incredibly tall and majestic creatures, but their mating ritual is downright weird. In order to determine if a female giraffe is fertile, the male will taste her urine. That’s right. Since giraffe don’t have a set menstrual/estrous cycle like other animals, this is the only way. Males can detect the females’ hormone levels just by drinking their pee.

Once they know that the timing is right, they’ll follow their girl around for a few days trying to mount her. During this time, he may need to fight off competition! He’ll do this by swinging his impressive long neck around and whacking any other males who get in his way.

The fertile female avoids her suitor for a while, until finally standing still long enough to do the deed. This may occur several times over the course of a few days. Once pregnant, the giraffe calf gestates for over 400 days.


Well there you have it. Did this blog post make you blush? Let us know in the comments.

P.S. If you want to learn even more about mating in the animal kingdom, join us for Love Birds & Wild Things this Saturday, Feb. 16. Our very own Dr. Raines will give you all the shockingly true deets about animal reproduction, plus you’ll get a special Zoo tour, light bites (including chocolate covered strawberries!) and a champagne toast.  Tickets are limited and will go fast! Click HERE to reserve your spot now.

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A day in the life of a zookeeper in North Savanna

Witten and his mom enjoy a January day in the North Savanna habitat.

It’s 7 a.m. on a chilly January morning. Lisa Fitzgerald and her team are huddled around a table for their daily status meeting. There were no stops for coffee on their way into work this morning. No hitting the snooze button. No late starts. They can’t. That’s because they have ten hungry giraffe, five kudu, four ostriches and 14 guinea fowl depending on them, regardless of the weather or time of year. But they’re not complaining – they love these animals and are some of the most passionate, dedicated people you’ll ever encounter.

This is an inside look at how just one of our many teams of zookeepers provide the highest level of care to the 2,000-plus animals of the Dallas Zoo – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Get eyes on the animals
The first item on their to-do list in the morning is to get a visual on each and every animal. The team of 12 keepers splits up into two groups – one team handles the giraffe herd, the other takes care of the hoofstock and birds. As they walk their respective barns, the keepers take note of anything that seems off or may have changed overnight. On a chilly night, all the animals remain indoors in their cozy, heated barns.

Keepers preparing morning meals for our giraffe herd.

Breakfast time
Next step is morning meals for everyone. Each species (and in some cases, each individual animal) receives specialized diets according to their needs. Keepers lug huge bowls full of spinach and pellets in for the ostriches at one barn. Simultaneously, another keeper prepares fresh produce for the giraffe in the other barn.

Prep the habitat
The habitats then need to be prepared for the animals to go out for the day, if weather allows. In case of freezing temperatures or inclement weather, most animals will remain in the comfort of their barns. Since the North Savanna is home to several different species, the whole team helps with this step. They walk the entire expansive habitat to check for hazards like fallen trees or litter that may have made its way in. Once that’s done and any hazards have been cleared, they scatter food and enrichment items for the animals to enjoy throughout the day.

Keepers getting the habitat ready for the animals to go out for the day.

Shifting – what is that?
In the world of zookeepers, moving the animals from one place to another is referred to as “shifting.” But this doesn’t happen unless the animals are willing participants. You can’t make a 17-foot tall, 2,500-pound giraffe do anything he doesn’t want to do. Getting animals comfortable with shifting takes time, patience and relationship-building. They’re given tons of positive reinforcement and treats each time they choose to participate.

Shifting four different species is no easy feat, but the keepers have it down to a science. Ostriches are the first out, and they go right to their stations where fresh spinach treats await them. Next are the kudu, who follow suit and wait patiently at their designated station as keepers feed them romaine lettuce. Then come the giraffe who are split into two groups – one goes out to the feeding habitat, and one to the larger Savanna habitat. Both groups are greeted with romaine and carrots to keep them at their stations until all is done. Finally, the guinea fowl follow suit. Once every animal has left the barns, the gates are closed and the animals are free to roam the expansive Savanna and enjoy their day. Keepers then will clean up the barns and prepare for the animals to come back inside at the end of the day.

Beau the kudu receives a lettuce treat (aka positive reinforcement) for choosing to go to his station during shifting.

Wrapping Up
The team may also hold a few animals back to work on training behaviors for routine health checks and more. Training is an essential part of their daily routine and helps reinforce their relationship with the animals they care for. In addition, our keepers contribute to animal research and help develop best practices for accredited zoos around the country. Their days are long but rewarding in every sense.

Once the Zoo is closed to the public, it’s time to bring everyone back inside. Before they know it, the keepers’ ten-hour day is over and they leave “the office” knowing their work has made an impact caring for some of the most majestic animals on earth. They’re excited to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

Categories: Africa, Giraffe, Zookeepers | 3 Comments

A special baby Witten update on World Giraffe Day

 

 Dallas Zoo North Savanna Assistant Supervisor Allison Dean, and Giraffe Keeper II Jessica Romano guest blog on ZooHoo!

It’s always exciting when we are expecting a new giraffe calf, but once that little… well, big bundle of joy is here, it takes a lot of work to integrate them into the herd. While giraffes are herd animals that live in large groups called “towers,” it’s important for mom and calf to have some private time in those first couple of days. Here at the Zoo, Chrystal and Witten spent their first days in our maternity stall away from the inquisitive herd. This area is filled with sand that helps newborns find sturdy footing as they learn to walk and keep up with mom. It also allows for uninterrupted bonding between mom and baby.

Witten stands close to mom Chrystal.

Once the calf is nursing well and is bonded with mom, we begin the process of introducing them to the rest of the herd. First up, our oldest giraffe, Auggie. His gentle nature, extreme tolerance, and protective personality makes him the go-to guy for babysitting when mom needs a break. Some individuals need more introduction time than others. Younger giraffes, like three-year-old Betty, are often more curious and can inadvertently be a bit of a bother to mom while she’s in protective-mommy mode. It’s all a normal part of herd dynamics and learning social behaviors for everyone, not just the new calf. The progress of the introductions is always on mom’s terms. After introductions are complete, it’s time to head out to a whole new world – the giraffe feeding habitat.

Learning to shift from the barn to the habitat can take a bit of work. Sometimes calves learn this process quickly and other times they need a little extra encouragement from mom to get over those first day jitters. Little by little, the calves get used to their new surroundings and make their way out to the habitat.

It’s hard to believe that Witten will be two months old next week. Seems like just yesterday he was taking his first steps and now he makes regular trips to the giraffe feeding habitat like a pro (or a pro-football player, *nudge nudge*). He’s sprouted up to 7 feet tall and weighs nearly 250 pounds! Those lanky legs are good for running post routes around the trees (and his mom). We’re sure Witten would spike the ball if he could carry one, but he usually just turns loose a high kick and a stomp to signify the completion of his run.

Witten has already made an impression and has become a great ambassador for his reticulated giraffe sub-species – it’s estimated there are less than 8,700 left in the wild. Giraffe populations are undergoing what conservationists call a “silent extinction” – the species is already extinct in at least seven African countries. They are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction due to a 40-percent population decline in the past 15 years with fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left. Human encroachment on their habitat has led to significant conflict and poaching.

On June 21, we celebrate World Giraffe Day to bring awareness to the issues facing this amazing species. Our partners at the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) work tirelessly in the field every day to protect these majestic animals. We’re proud to help fund GCF’s efforts to monitor giraffes and remove snares in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, home to more than 90 percent of the wild population of the Rothschild’s giraffe sub-species.

Learn more about how we’re helping save giraffes with GCF, and please consider donating directly to GCF on this special day dedicated to saving the long necks of the animal kingdom.

PS: It’s also National Selfie Day today, so we highly suggest you make a trip out to snap a selfie with our giraffes!

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MEET WITTEN! Dallas Zoo names male giraffe calf after retired football legend Jason Witten

A close-up of Witten with mom Chrystal in the background./May 3

It’s a name fit for a 5-foot-9, 145-pound male giraffe calf and, of course, a 15-year career-span football legend. The Dallas Zoo – which was named today as the nation’s 7th Best Zoo in the USA Today 10Best awards and our Simmons Hippo Outpost was voted as the 5th Best Zoo Exhibit – is paying tribute to one of the best tight ends in history, Jason Witten, by naming our giraffe calf after the retired football star.

“We’re shifting from our typical tradition of naming a baby after its native heritage to honor a Texas legend and all around great guy,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “Our zookeepers were the first ones to jump on this naming opportunity. We’re all huge fans of Jason, he’s a real role model – on the field and in our community.”

Witten was born on April 25 after a long two-and-a-half hour labor (giraffes usually labor and deliver within one to two hours). Second-time mom Chrystal successfully delivered the calf without intervention. Witten was standing, walking, and nursing within 45 minutes after birth.

Witten will make his public debut in the giraffe-feeding yard within the next one to two weeks (weather dependent, of course). He’ll be joined by mom Chrystal, other herd members – and maybe even Jason Witten and his family (the zoo said optimistically).

“One of the things we are proudly known for is our giraffe herd. From Animal Planet to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, our giraffes have received a lot of limelight, so it’s fitting that we named our newest addition after one of football’s greatest,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s vice president of animal operations and welfare.

Witten’s father is Tebogo, one of the zoo’s most social and well-known residents. Tebogo is the only breeding male under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Giraffe Species Survival Plan’s (SSP) program to ensure genetic diversity within endangered species. Tebogo also is the father of the last four calves born at the Zoo.

In the wild, giraffes are facing what conservationists call a “silent extinction.” There are fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left – a 40% drop in the past 15 years. The Dallas Zoo cares for the reticulated giraffe sub-species; it’s estimated there are less than 8,700 left in the wild. The Dallas Zoo contributes greatly to giraffe conservation projects in Africa to help this species recover.

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LEGGY BABY! Meet our newest giraffe calf

We’re welcoming a long-legged baby born on April 25 to second-time mom Chrystal. This 5-foot-9, 130-pound giraffe calf arrived after a long two-and-a-half hour labor (giraffes usually labor and deliver within 1-2 hours!).

Nine-year-old Chrystal went into labor around 8:30 p.m. after keepers had gone home for the day. But during a scheduled 8:30 p.m. check-in via the barn’s closed-circuit cameras, they could see what appeared to be hooves emerging. A group of keepers and our on-call veterinarian headed into the Zoo to monitor the labor more closely.

Around 11 p.m., Chrystal calmly delivered her second calf – this time, without intervention. (You may remember when her first calf Kopano was born in 2014, vet staff intervened and helped deliver the baby after a long labor.)

After the baby dropped onto the soft sand, Chrystal immediately began cleaning its face, allowing the baby to take deep breaths. Once the calf sat up, Chrystal gently encouraged baby to stand. Following a few wobbly attempts on its new legs, the calf stood up only 20 minutes after birth. Shortly after, the calf got the hang of walking, and then nursed just 45 minutes after birth.

“Chrystal showed us once again that she’s a very attentive mother,” said Allison Dean, assistant supervisor of giraffes. “She’s been busy cleaning, nuzzling, and nursing her new little one who spends a lot of time eating and even more time napping. It’s hard being that cute.”

Chrystal and her calf remain behind the scenes where they are bonding privately (of course, with interested onlookers, like “Uncle” Auggie, peering over the maternity stall to check in on the two).

In the wild, the animal kingdom’s tallest and longest-necked species is facing what conservationists call a “silent extinction.” With fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left – a 40% drop in the past 15 years – their conservation status was up-listed to “vulnerable” last year by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Dallas Zoo cares for the reticulated giraffe sub-species; it’s estimated there are fewer than 8,700 left in the wild, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

The calf’s father is Tebogo, one of our most social and well-known residents. Tebogo is our only breeding male under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Giraffe Species Survival Plan’s (SSP) program to ensure genetic diversity within endangered species. Tebogo also is the father of our last four calves born at the Dallas Zoo.

Chrystal and her baby will venture into the giraffe feeding yard within the next few weeks for guests to meet them. And over the next few months, the baby will slowly meet the other nine giraffes in the herd.

Stay tuned to learn the baby’s gender very soon!

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