Gorilla

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

Gorilla FAQ: Answering the most common questions

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IMG_8572 Gorillas play fight kids - large CS

Dallas Zoo Lower Wilds of Africa keeper Debbie Reid answers some of the most common questions about the Dallas Zoo’s two gorilla troops.

How much do the gorillas weigh?

Bachelor troop: Family troop:
Juba – 438 lbs Subira – 395 lbs
B’wenzi – 427 lbs Shanta – 246 lbs
Shana – 423 lbs Megan – 190 lbs
Zola – 317 lbs

Our gorillas’ weights fluctuate and several are not at their full adult stature (especially our bachelor troop males).

Do you ever go in with the gorillas?

The answer to that is a resounding NO. The gorillas are too large and too strong for staff to enter an enclosure with them. Even roughhousing gorillas can cause serious injuries to humans.

In the morning before the Zoo opens when the gorillas are still in their night quarters, keepers go into each habitat to clean, scrub, mow, trim and put out the morning portion of their diet. The night quarters are cleaned during the day when the gorillas are out.

The only physical contact the keepers have is during training sessions for health checks and body part presentation. And that is still done with a secure barrier between the gorilla and keeper.

_MG_9125-B'Wenzi with pumpkin-CBDo the gorillas spend the night in the habitat?

At night, the gorillas come inside, where they are fed and where they make their night nests.

What do the gorillas eat?

They eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. The bulk of their diet consists of romaine, curly leaf lettuce, kale and celery. They also get a variety of fruits and veggies like apples, oranges, pears, bananas, grapes, broccoli, onion, sweet potatoes and carrots. And they receive seasonal treats like plums, peaches or watermelon in the summer, and pumpkins, squash and sugar cane in the fall and winter. The variety keeps the animals excited for meal times.

Do you bathe the gorillas or brush their long, soft-looking hair?

Gorillas groom themselves to remove loose hair, dead skin, hay or grass. There’s no need for zookeepers to do any grooming.

What is the life expectancy of a gorilla?

Female gorillas in human care tend to live to their mid-40s to early 50s, and males tend to live to their late 30s or early 40s, but some may live even longer. This is why it is important for us to make sure their lives are enriched through training, food, browse and objects to manipulate.

Do you have any baby gorillas?

We have two troops of gorillas, each with their own habitat. Our bachelor group consists of all males 13-14 years old. Our family group has one adult male and two females. They don’t currently have any babies, but we are hopeful this group will have a bundle of joy some day!

How strong are gorillas?

It’s said that they are at least 10 times stronger than an adult male human! This is another reason for keepers to be respectful and cautious while working with them.

IMG_3691 Gorilla Teeth CSHow do you tell the gorillas apart?

To us, the gorillas differ as much as humans do. Each has its own distinct body type. Males outweigh females by at least twice their body weight and their heads are much larger. Their facial features are completely unique. It takes a bit of time watching them and it becomes second nature telling them apart. Keepers are even able to tell who is who by the way the gorillas walk!

Do your gorillas know sign language?

They don’t know sign language, but we use hand signals to ask for behaviors during our health check training sessions. See the public training demonstrations for yourself every Saturday and Sunday at 1:15 p.m.

Do the gorillas fight?

With a troop of males becoming silverbacks, there are times when aggression and injuries occur as they figure out their social status. This is natural behavior, and occurs in the wild, too. For the most part, our troop gets along really well, but just like people, they have good days and bad. We are constantly monitoring our animals and our vet team is always alert if an injury occurs. Thankfully, animals have an amazing ability to heal quickly and naturally.

What is the biggest threat to gorillas?

Although we’re not often asked how gorillas are doing in the wild, keepers like to turn the tables and ask the public if they know who is the biggest threat is to gorillas. The answer is man. Due to mining, meat trade, poaching and habitat destruction, gorillas have never been at greater risk. You can help at home by recycling cellphones, caring for the environment and donating to gorilla conservation causes.

Come visit us and see our wonderful gorillas in the Wilds of Africa!

Categories: Gorilla | Tags: , | 2 Comments

National Zookeeper Week: Why we love our careers

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_MG_0019-Mshindi on Ramona's back-CB

Lower Wilds of Africa zookeeper Cristina Powers guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

Working with animals in zoos is not nearly as glamorous as you might think. Our days are not filled with baby animals crawling all over us; instead a lot of our time is actually spent cleaning up after them, among other not-so-clean tasks.

Something visitors may not know is how zookeepers develop very special relationships with the animals we work with. Our primates have amazing and unique personalities, making every day I work here different than the one before.

Some of our chimps are very playful with us and it doesn’t involve any physical contact. As a protected contact, AZA-accredited zoo, we don’t share the same space with some of our animals, including great apes.

In the mornings, our 26-year-old male chimp, Mookie, loves to engage us in a play session. He’ll look at me, bob his head up and down while bouncing his body, and he’ll run fast through his indoor rooms. I’ll chase him from the hallway and when he gets to the end, he’ll turn around and run the opposite direction.

Chimp Mookie is known for his playful antics with keepers.

Chimp Mookie is known for his playful antics with keepers.

Mookie will do this many times, then stop, signaling play time is over. Or I’ll just get tired and can’t do it any longer!

With 7-year-old chimp Kona, it’s a little different. I’ll start running along the hallway and he might decide to join in the fun. Even little Mshindi has started to catch on.

These animals are truly special to the people who work with them day in and day out. If they get sick, we worry. If we go on vacation, we miss them. When they move to another zoo, we are sent with them for a few days to help them adjust, and minimize stress after the move.

When keepers leave the zoo, it is certainly not the end of caring and wanting to know more about our animals’ lives. We’ll email their new keepers and ask for updates and pictures. Keepers and volunteers will even arrange personal trips to go see an animal at their new home. And you can bet they’re both happy to see each other.

A lot is said about an elephant’s memory, but don’t underestimate a primate’s. They can act very excited when a retired keeper comes to see them, or even someone they haven’t seen in a while. They’ll greet their old human friends with happy vocalizations; they’ll try to reach for them and sometimes won’t leave until the person is gone.

When chimps are happy they might show it in different ways, such as opening their mouths really big, making panting vocalizations, and bobbing their heads.

Keeper Cristina Powers shares a moment with chimp Missy.

Keeper Cristina Powers shares a moment with chimp Missy.

Being a zookeeper means sometimes we spend even more time around our animals and co-workers than our own families. During ice and snow storms, when the whole city (including the Zoo!) is shut down for business, we still have to spend many hours driving so we can get here to feed and clean their living quarters. If there’s still snow on the ground the next day, we do it all over again.

Same for holidays. Even though the zoo is closed to the public on Christmas Day, our animals still need to be cared for just the same. So we make sure to have enough staff around to get the job done.

Although not a common occurrence, if severe illness strikes in our animals, or one is still recovering from anesthesia or new situations arise, you bet we will be here overnight, taking turns keeping a watchful eye over them.

Unfortunately, there comes a time when we have to say goodbye forever. The death of a beloved animal is very hard on us. If time allows, the keepers at home on their days off are called in to say their final goodbye. Tears flow freely. Calls are made and texts are sent to the ones who no longer work at the zoo.

People from other departments, volunteers, old co-workers might send cards, emails, flowers, food – they know we are grieving. We miss them, we remember them, and we bring them up in conversations often. Even new keepers get to know so much about them, because we can’t stop talking about how special they were for years and years to come.

I hope this gives a small glimpse of how special these animals are to us. This is dedicated to all zookeepers and their endless love for animals. Happy National Zookeeper Week, friends.

Categories: Africa, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Mandrill, Zookeepers | Tags: | 3 Comments

Uniting to Save Animals From Extinction (SAFE)

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Three days, six endangered species stations, 30 volunteers and 4,074 people who pledged to help save endangered animals — it IMG_9092 SAFE Endangered Species Penguin CS (800x533)was an extraordinary weekend for wildlife.

On the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day, we joined the Association of Zoos & IMG_9106 SAFE Endangered Species Penguin CS (533x800)Aquariums (AZA) for the launch of SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. SAFE is an incredible nationwide effort uniting 228 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to raise awareness for species that desperately need our help.

We invited guests to discover how they could help save elephants, cheetahs, penguins, and gorillas in Africa, as well as the monarch butterfly here in Texas. And their response blew us away.

“We saw that people wanted to be more personally involved,” said Ben Jones, dean of Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy. “They were inspired by our animals, and they wanted to be invited to help. They just needed a little guidance.”IMG_9101 SAFE Endangered Species Penguin CS (533x800)

But we also learned that while many people know in a general sense that wildlife’s in trouble, they don’t know how severe the threat of extinction is that these animals face. So we’d like to share these green actions that start right at home. We hope to inspire more conversations, ignite a light to investigate, and become conservationists to help protect what we have now before it’s too late.

My Pledge to Protect Penguins:

  • I’ll buy sustainable seafood.
  • I’ll save energy. When not in use, I’ll turn off the juice.

My Pledge to Protect Elephants:

  • I’ll spread the word about ivory & never buy it.
  • I’ll respect & protect native wildlife.

My Pledge to Protect Gorillas:

  • I’ll extend the life of my mobile phone & recycle it.
  • I’ll buy sustainable forest products.

My Pledge to Protect Cheetahs:

  • I’ll respect & protect native wildlife.
  • I’ll restore wildlife habitat.

My Pledge to Protect Monarch Butterflys:

  • I’ll plant milkweed.
  • I’ll reduce or eliminate yard pesticides.

My Pledge to Protect Wildlife:

  • I’ll use reusable grocery bags.
  • I’ll pick up 10 pieces of litter pollution every week.

IMG_9169 SAFE Endangered Species Penguin CS (800x533)To view all of the photos from our Endangered Species Weekend, click HERE. And to see photos of how other AZA-accredited zoos/aquariums participated to inspire change, click HERE.

Categories: Cheetah, Conservation, Elephant, Events, Gorilla, Penguins | Leave a comment

PART TWO: Gorillas’ health a key part of habitat inspection

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Gorilla keeper Cindy McCaleb brings fresh food into the gorilla habitat./Dallas Zoo

Primate keeper Cindy McCaleb brings fresh food into the gorilla habitat./Dallas Zoo

Editor’s note: Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. Part Two: The gorilla habitat.

Preparation of the gorilla habitat also begins early every morning, and includes an extra task: Anyone entering the building must don boots, and visitors also must wear rubber gloves and a mask, so no illnesses are passed to the gorillas, or vice versa. Gorillas can catch nearly any ailment that humans can, even the common cold!

Today the primary caretakers responsible for the care of the gorilla habitats are Cindy McCaleb, Primate Keeper, and Sarah Villarreal, Primate Supervisor, both of whom are very familiar with the eight Western lowland gorillas.

Inside the building, one of the volunteers prepares vitamin sandwiches. McCaleb heads out to walk the South habitat, cleaning and checking every corner for branches hanging into the exhibit, toxic plants, or food or trash that may have blown in. She points out squash and tomato plants that have begun growing out of dropped seeds from the gorilla food. Soon, these plants will start bearing fruit, and the gorillas will find a nice treat.

After the initial cleaning is complete, McCaleb circles back and dispenses food. The gorillas’ diet ranges from primate chow to many kinds of fruits and vegetables – these smart animals need a lot of diversity so they don’t tire of any one food. Today’s treat is corn on the cob, hidden away so the gorillas will have fun finding it.

McCaleb cleans the water features in the gorilla exhibit before the Zoo opens./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb cleans the water features in the gorilla exhibit before the Zoo opens./Dallas Zoo

After Cindy finishes both sides of the gorilla habitat, she returns to the kitchen. “The busiest time comes first thing in the morning,” she says. First, the keepers say good morning and do a visual check of all three females (Megan, Madge and Shanta) and five males (Zola, Shana, B’wenzi, Juba and Subira). The keepers look carefully for any abnormalities on the bodies of the animals, who range in weight from 175 pounds (Megan) to 430 pounds (B’wenzi).

“That’s where the medical aspect comes in,” McCaleb says. “You have to recognize the signs and know what’s normal and what isn’t.” This is crucial to keeping the gorillas healthy.

One keeper prepares juice and grapes to be used in training sessions, while another begins cleaning the habitats. The gorilla exhibit totals two acres, and sometimes one keeper must clean it all. After finishing, though, another keeper checks it for the safety of staff and animals. As with the big cats, the gorilla keepers also perform a detailed perimeter check.

McCaleb spreads the produce out for the gorillas to find./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb spreads the produce out for the gorillas to find./Dallas Zoo

The keepers have a training session with the females and Subira to teach behaviors, such as “open mouth” to check their teeth and “full body checks” for medical management. Then they’re released into their habitat.

The males have their own training session, presenting body parts so keepers can check for injuries or abnormalities, and may sometimes be taught a new behavior. For instance, the keepers have been preparing the gorillas for a cardiac ultrasound, so training includes getting them used to a plastic wand similar in size and feel to the one used in ultrasounds. Because gorillas are more communicative through body language than vocalizations, the keepers will point to the area they want the gorillas to present, in addition to saying it aloud.

After training, the males head into their habitat. But the keepers aren’t done: they quickly start cleaning the inside of the night quarters and prepare food for the next day. They also check the enrichment schedule and set out enrichment items for the gorillas to investigate overnight.

These enrichment items vary, from barrels that dole out small amounts of food when rolled around to raisin boards that act as a sort of puzzle for the gorillas to solve. When the animals come in for the night, they start playing with the enrichment toys immediately. McCaleb has even found them with the barrels on their heads!

The gorillas move around freely in their wooded habitat, designed with moats and secluded areas, which is why they may be harder for the public to spot. “We want to let the gorillas feel they have some sort of control, and they have the choice to move away,” McCaleb says.

McCaleb washes the inside viewing windows./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb washes the inside viewing windows./Dallas Zoo

Decisions such as that result from keepers becoming very close to the gorillas. “You in a sense become a part of the troop,” she adds. “If they like what you’re doing, they rumble – you know you’ve done well when you hear the rumble.”

And the way the keepers behave around the animals is important. “If you come in laid back and relaxed, they’ll be laid back and relaxed, too,” McCaleb explains. “If you come in stressed and tense, it will make them stressed and tense. You have to keep calm when you’re with them.”

24/7/365 dedication

Taking care of animals is a constant job — lions, cheetahs and gorillas don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. Every day, no matter what the weather is or if it’s a holiday, keepers feed and care for their animals.

“We’re here every day, no matter what,” says carnivore keeper Becky Wolf.

The keepers become family, spending most of their time with their animals and each other. And it’s a calling, a labor of love. “It’s the best job in the world,” Wolf adds. “But it’s not a job where you just play with animals – it’s a lot of work.”

A lot of science and research goes into their jobs; keepers at the Dallas Zoo have graduated from college, with degrees varying from biology to zoology to animal studies, even psychology. (McCaleb’s major was social work; she says it helps greatly in identifying animal behavior). Keepers regularly work on projects that involve studying and research.

Keeper Sara Squires began volunteering at the Denver Zoo at age 18 and has been a keeper of hoofstock, hogs, and now lions and cheetahs. She hopes to one day become a behaviorist, which would allow her to still have close contact with the animals.

McCaleb first became interested in gorillas as a child when she saw noted researcher Jane Goodall on television, eventually hearing Goodall speak at her school. She began working at the zoo 15 years ago as a research volunteer, then moved to the animal hospital, then to birds, eventually working her way to gorillas.

It’s a tough job, but a rewarding one.

“People come to this job because they’re so excited to work with the animals,” Cindy says. “They’re so passionate… and that’s what gets you up in the morning.”

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Enrichment, Gorilla, Mammals, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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