Gorilla

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

Adopting a lot of (furry, scaly, feathery) love

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David with his now adult children, Amanda and Ryan.

David with his now adult children, Amanda and Ryan.

It was December 1985, and Oak Cliff resident David Luther was about to celebrate his daughter Amanda’s first Christmas. He wanted to give his little girl something special, something she’d have for years to come that would never be the same. David gave her the intangible gift of adopting a Dallas Zoo animal.

“It was like eating potato chips — once you did it, it just made sense to do it again and again,” David said.

And he did. The following Christmas he adopted another animal for his newborn son, Ryan.

“It wasn’t until they were 3 and 4 that they started understanding the adoption,” David explained. “When we adopted the red panda, it was always the first place we would stop, to find them in the trees. Then when baby gorilla Jake became the adoptee, the kids would say, ‘That’s our gorilla!’ It made each visit a little more special and personal.”

It’s a present David has continued to give for almost 30 years now, making him one of our longest-running adopters in the Adopt-An-Animal program. While we’re incredibly grateful for his decades of generosity, David says it’s nice to have one Christmas gift in the bag he never has to worry about.

“Adopting these animals is just another way we can support the Zoo,” he said. “It’s fun, and it gives us something to look for every time we go. Their wellbeing is important to us, and to know we have a special connection to that Zoo resident.”

Baby gorilla Wakub (nicknamed Jake) born in 1998.

Baby gorilla Wakub (nicknamed Jake) born in 1998.

Luther says to this day, his daughter remembers baby Jake. “My kids are grown up, but we’ll still come to the Zoo, and my daughter still says Jake was her favorite. I think it’s a lifelong commitment for us. I’ve made it this long, I might as well continue.”

Adopting one of 50 available animals helps provide care and feeding for that resident, habitat improvements, enrichment items and zookeeper training. Your adopted animal will remain at the Zoo, where we can give it the expert care it deserves with the help of your support.

All adoptions are valid for one year and include a personalized package. For more information and to see the list of available adoptees, click HERE.

 

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

Update: Gorilla Patrick prospers in new home

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Gorilla Patrick in his new habitat at the Riverbanks Zoo

Gorilla Patrick in his new habitat at the Riverbanks Zoo. Emily Guertin/Riverbanks Zoo

It’s been a year since we said farewell to our beloved Western lowland gorilla Patrick. You helped us send off the 24-year-old silverback with presents, cupcakes, cards, and a whole lot of love. Patrick now calls the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, S.C., home.

Patrick was hand-raised by keepers at the Bronx Zoo due to maternal neglect. But he grew to prefer his own company more than socializing with other gorillas. After years of trying to socialize him with his own kind, it became clear he prefers to live a solitary life. The move to Riverbanks Zoo gave him the opportunity to fully thrive by himself, but in close proximity to other gorillas.

Riverbanks Zoo’s curator of mammals, John Davis, says Patrick fits in perfectly at his new home. Just as he was a visitor favorite for 18 years at the Dallas Zoo, Patrick has continued to have special interactions with Riverbanks

zookeepers and guests. “Patrick is a real crowd-pleaser,” Davis said. “Some people call just to make sure he’s out before they come.”

However, saying goodbye to Patrick wasn’t only hard for our team, but also our guests. Seven-year-old Zoé Neff feels a special connection with Patrick, and recently traveled across the country with her Grandmother to visit him.

7-year-old Zoe visits Patrick for the first time in a year

7-year-old Zoe visits Patrick for the first time in a year/Janis Whitt

“She cried for two days after Patrick left. She’s known him since she was 7 weeks old,” said her mother, April Neff. “We used put her up to the glass and he would follow her all around. It was love at first sight.”

And it was that interaction Zoé knew they’d have again. With her hands pressed hands against the glass, she peered into Patrick’s new home and waited for her friend to notice her. “When she finally got his attention, he ran to the glass to say hello,” Neff said. “Zoé swears Patrick remembers her.”

Davis says the other gorillas ignore the public for the most part, but Patrick loves being with guests.

Patrick joins three other male gorillas. Although he is never physically with them, he can vocalize with them, smell them and have visual contact through a mesh barrier. “Patrick is the only gorilla who’s allowed access to both the outdoor habitat at night and the indoor quarters,” Davis said. “He has more choices, but he likes to hang near the other gorillas and see them.”

Zoe and Patrick bond through the viewing glass at Riverbanks Zoo

Zoe and Patrick bond through the viewing glass at Riverbanks Zoo/Janis Whitt

He’s also caught the eyes of his keepers, who’ve learned just how smart he is. “The keepers think very highly of him. He responds nicely with training and uses tools remarkably well,” Davis explained. “He’s great at using a stick to retrieve things outside of his exhibit during enrichment activities.”

We couldn’t be more proud of Patrick for embracing his new home and giving visitors a reason to want to learn more about his species. If you’re ever in South Carolina, stop by the Riverbanks Zoo.

The Dallas Zoo works with the Gorilla Species Survival Plan to place and breed endangered animals in accredited zoos across the nation. Western lowland gorillas inhabit the thick rainforests and swamps of Africa. Due to poaching, habitat loss and disease, their numbers in the wild have fallen by more than 60 percent in the past 20 years.

 

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Gorilla | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

New silverback joins female gorillas

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Silverback Subira in his new habitat at the Dallas Zoo.

Silverback Subira in his new habitat at the Dallas Zoo.

He’s a sight for sore eyes — a handsome fella and a patient man (swooning much?). Subira, a 19-year-old Western lowland gorilla, has joined the Dallas Zoo troop as a breeding male, creating our first family group in over a decade.

The silverback couldn’t be a better fit for our three gorilla girls: Megan, Madge and Shanta. Subira already has caught the eye of 9-year-old Megan. “She’s definitely the most interested and the least nervous about getting close to him,” mammal supervisor Sarah Villarreal said. “She’s very pushy and stays very close, trying to appease him.”

Subira is very caring and the introductions have gone perfectly. All four gorillas have been together 24 hours a day since last week. Subira went out into the habitat with the females for the first time this week, but is still a little hesitant to explore.

Western lowland gorilla, Subira

Western lowland gorilla, Subira

He comes from the Granby Zoo in Quebec, Canada, where he’s lived for the past five years. “This is huge for the Dallas Zoo, since we haven’t had a gorilla baby in over 10 years,” said Keith Zdrojewski, mammal curator. “It was hard work to get an international gorilla here with the amount of paperwork and agencies involved. We’ve put in a lot of effort to bring him here for this purpose.”

The breeding recommendation comes from the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Western lowland gorillas. SSP is a conservation and breeding program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that manages efforts to ensure genetic diversity for the survival of endangered species.

It’s a hopeful future for our new family group! You can find the group out every day in the north habitat, along the Gorilla Trail entrance near the Giants of the Savanna.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Gorilla, Mammals | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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