Relationship goals of the animal kingdom


We suggest you take some notes this Valentine’s Day from these animal couples who totally win at relationships.

Guapo & Bonita: Let’s talk about commitment – king vultures Guapo and Bonita have been together for more than 23 steamy years and have raised five chicks together. This seasoned couple, both with big personalities, are proudly dubbed “expert parents.” They know exactly what to do when it comes to their chicks and share rearing duties equally. (See their newest chick hatched last summer HERE!)

_MG_8435-King Vultures Bonita & Guapo

Kamau & Lina: If Kamau was a bachelor, everyone would chase this 426-pound hunk after learning how great he is with his love, Lina. The heart certainly wants what it can’t always have, and when Kamau misses Lina, he’ll call out for her repeatedly with a soft roar. Their days usually consist of Lina stealing food from her man, and Kamau selflessly allowing her to get away with it, which we find incredibly endearing. Then it’s up to Lina to casually pick the spot where they’ll sunbathe for the next few hours. Kamau trails close behind, waiting to plop down near her. And after a few cheek rubs against each other, catnaps commence.

Photo Feb 10, 3 45 20 PM

Photo by zoo guest Jonathan Case

Tonks & Monty: Addax Tonks is head over heels for her new guy, Monty. Some may consider her a “stage 5 clinger” as she hopelessly follows Monty around, but we think she’s just a downright flirt. Tonks loves engaging Monty in a playful spar, and he always obliges. Head-to-head with their 2-foot-long spiral horns, Monty gently pushes back, but never hard enough to hurt her.

Addax Tonks and Monty

Photo by keeper Laura Frazier

Pierre & Gigi: Calling it like it is – Gigi is queen bee in this collared brown lemur relationship. But Pierre, being the cool guy that he is, has no qualms about it. Together, he and his gal rule the lemur habitat. Well, the massive oak tree in the center of the exhibit, that is. (Photo evidence below.) This tree is their domain, their absolute favorite place to cuddle up in a “lemur ball.” And although Gigi can freely steal food from the other six male lemurs whenever she desires, she’ll never steal from her guy.

IMG_1156 Collared Lemurs CS

Jimi & Tullah: Giant anteater Tullah may be a little older than her dude Jimi, but she puts up with his immature antics like a classy broad. Together since last summer, Tullah runs the show, and Jimi’s just here for the free avocado, midday swims, and summer hose spray-downs with his leading lady. (This may be one reason why Jimi is so smitten with Tullah – the gal knows how to put on a show in the pool! WATCH!)

Jimi and Tullah on left

Janna & Karin: Here’s a story of companionship that’s worth sharing. Caracal sisters Janna and Karin have been by each other’s side every day for the past 15 years. Although caracals are naturally solitary creatures, Janna and Karin are extremely bonded and thrive together. For these sisters, mealtime equals playtime. They have a ball tossing their food high up in the air over and over again until it’s finally time to dig in. And almost every night, the two cozy up in a single nest box and doze off. (Note: They have two nest boxes.)

Caracal sisters by Megan Lumpkin

Photo by keeper Rita Huang

*See Tonks and Monty, and Janna and Karin in the arid and predator exhibits off the monorail when it reopens this spring.

(And read about our inspirational, longtime animal couples featured last Valentine’s Day!)

Categories: Birds, Lion | 2 Comments

How do you introduce lions? Very carefully

11-year-old lion Kamau is settling in well in his new Dallas Zoo home.

11-year-old lion Kamau is settling in well at his new Dallas Zoo home.

Some people have magical, undeniable chemistry at first glance, while others slowly grow into it, and some can’t stand the sight of one other instantaneously. The same goes for the animal kingdom.

And cats have even more stubborn sass than most. (Who can relate when it comes to your house cat? Fierce feline of the household? Ruler of all things human? Yep. You get it.)

Now take the audaciousness of your 12-pound house cat and multiply it by nine lives, three African lions, 12 paws, one mane, and three very different temperaments.

Kamau and Lina enjoy a day out in the habitat together.

Kamau and Lina enjoy a day out in the habitat together.

“Integrating lions isn’t easy,” said Lisa Van Slett, assistant carnivore supervisor. “It takes a lot of time and patience working with big personalities.”

This spring, we welcomed 11-year-old Kamau from Zoo Atlanta. He’s here on a breeding recommendation through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP).

A handsome man at 420 pounds with a massive mane, Kamau has been genetically matched with lioness Lina. And for her, the fireworks are shooting off at full speed. She’s a downright flirt!

Sisters Lina & Jasiri nap together at the exhibit window.

Sisters Lina & Jasiri nap together at the exhibit window.

The two have been going out into the lion habitat for a few weeks now. Kamau also has begun meeting his leading lady’s sister, Jasiri. But Jasiri hasn’t been as warm and welcoming, which is why keepers took her introduction with Kamau slowly.

That careful planning paid off. This week, Kamau, Lina and Jasiri went out into the habitat together as a pride. It was positively uneventful in lion introduction terms.

“We’re still working through the process as it’s all so new, but we’re excited with how well things have gone so far,” said Lora Baumhardt, carnivore supervisor. “We anticipate continued progress and always keep the animals’ welfare and interests in mind.”

We’re extremely proud to have a pride together again. And hey, if cubs come out of it, that’s just an added bonus!

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Lion, Zookeepers | Tags: | 1 Comment

Dallas Zoo’s bonded lion brothers move to Franklin Park Zoo

Six-year-old bonded lion brothers Dinari and Kamaia.

Six-year-old bonded lion brothers Dinari and Kamaia.

Our beloved lion brothers have a new home! Six-year-old Dinari and Kamaia recently moved to the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, Mass. Although it was a very difficult farewell for our staff, it’s also an exciting new chapter for these close brothers.

While the Dallas Zoo has a lion breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) African Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP), the boys showed little interest in breeding. Their new AZA-accredited zoo home has no plans to breed them – so the “joined at the hip” brothers will be able to remain together.

Their days ahead include basking in the New England sun on top of the massive rock in the center of their Kalahari Kingdom habitat. Dinari and Kamaia were born at the Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City, Kan., on March 7, 2009. They moved to the Dallas Zoo shortly after their first birthday, and quickly became guest and staff favorites.

Through the African Lion SSP, the Dallas Zoo plans to bring in a new breeding male soon to join lionesses (and sisters) Lina and Jasiri in the Giants of the Savanna habitat. So stay tuned for more details!

Categories: Africa, Lion | Leave a comment

PART ONE: Lion-cheetah habitat gets special attention


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 ONE: The lion-cheetah exhibit.

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

It’s 6:45 a.m. when Sara Hamlin parks behind the lion and cheetah quarters. She’s followed closely by Becky Wolf and Sara Squires, the two primary keepers of these big cats. The sun is just rising and the lions are roaring.

“They’re just saying good morning to each other,” Hamlin explains. She’s been a part of the Dallas Zoo staff for just 10 days, and she’s already used to the noisy greetings. Or maybe she remembers the male lions, Kamaia and Dinari – she used to work at the zoo where they were born. “I got to watch them grow up, and it’s nice to see them again,” Hamlin says.

The two cheetahs are allowed night access to their habitat, so the first task is to bring them inside so it can be cleaned and restocked. As with any task directly involving the big cats, the keepers work in pairs – a door can’t be opened without one keeper announcing the action and the second keeper replying with an “OK.”

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

When the siblings are inside, Bonde lies down next to his sister Kilima, and starts vocalizing. He’s ready for breakfast, which has been prepared the day before. The cats are weighed every two weeks, and the Zoo’s nutritionist determines how much food they’ll get. Some guests ask if our cheetahs are underfed, but these cats – with a lean body built for speed – are kept at a healthy weight.

Once the first round of food has been delivered, the keepers move into the habitats to begin cleaning. They mow every two weeks, trim bushes and trees, scrub the inside of the glass, clean any mess the animals have made, check the levels in the pool and water bowls, and set out enrichment items for the day. Enrichment is a process by which keepers enhance the animal’s environment by adding scents, toys, sounds, food, substrate and other items to encourage natural behaviors and keep them physically and mentally fit.

The cheetahs, for example, love the smell of certain human perfumes. The keepers occasionally spray it in a patch of grass, and the cheetahs will rub their faces in it and roll around. Other enrichment items include empty ostrich eggs and small hay piles once used as zebra beds. Because the keepers schedule the cats into each habitat, the food and enrichment they put out vary from day to day. The whole cleaning process can take up to two hours, including a perimeter check of the entire habitat.

Before the lions are let out in the morning, they have a quick training session, which lets the keepers check their

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they've shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they’ve shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

overall health. They may examine the cats’ teeth and feet for problems or sores, and if one is detected, they apply medication with an oversized cotton swab if necessary.

As the keepers move behind the scenes, all three constantly check and doublecheck doors and locks. “Being [obsessive] can actually be helpful, because you have to do the same thing over and over again and you can’t forget,” Squires says. The keepers also perform a “positive head count,” going into the public viewing area and locating all of the cats (two cheetahs and two lions or lionesses), confirming that they’re safe in their habitat.

The animals are good at being where they need to be. If any of the cats are a bit slow to move in the morning, the keepers encourage them by setting out more meat treats – but they never yell or touch the animals. Dallas Zoo keepers won’t punish animals for challenging behavior. Instead, they ignore the cats until appropriate behavior is observed, then the keepers respond and reward appropriately.

As demonstrated by the public training sessions, rewards always come with good behavior. “Everything we do is training for them,” Squires says. The keepers are constantly aware of how their actions are perceived or may be reinforcing to the animals. For example, if one of the lions is pawing at or banging on a door, the keepers wait until they stop banging before they open the door. If the keepers open the door when they are banging, the cats will continue to do it. So the undesired behavior is ignored, and good behavior is rewarded.

COMING UP: The gorilla habitat.

Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Enrichment, Lion, Mammals, Nutrition, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo speakers present at top conferences


Zoological and aquarium professionals from across the U.S. are gathering this month at the top professional conferences in the country to share ideas, network and learn from one another – and the Dallas Zoo is well-represented.

Keepers Russell Pharr and Heather Seymour train Grant zebra Stewart to accept voluntary vaccination injections. Dallas Zoo/Ashley Allen

Keepers Russell Pharr and Heather Seymour train Grant zebra Stewart to accept voluntary vaccination injections. Dallas Zoo/Ashley Allen

At the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) national conference in Orlando, Fla., hoofstock keeper Russell Pharr presented a paper he co-authored with lead giraffe keeper Heather Seymour. His presentation focuses on two years spent training Grant’s zebras to accept voluntary hand injections for their semi-annual vaccinations.

Also at AAZK, lion keeper Rebecca Wolf presented a paper she co-wrote with keeper Sara Squires, discussing training our female lions to accept voluntary ultrasounds to monitor potential pregnancies.

Other speakers are featured at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) annual conference, also in Orlando. Our coordinator of elephant behavior science, Nancy Scott, will present data collected since 2009 to compare how our five elephants’ behavior and activity patterns have changed after moving into their world-renowned Giants of the Savanna habitat in 2010.

Gypsy and Jenny's playful behaviors are noted during observations by researcher, Nancy Scott. Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey

Gypsy and Jenny’s playful behavior is observed in their Giants of the Savanna habitat. Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey

Our director of communications and social media, Laurie Holloway, will discuss how we listen and respond to guests on consumer review sites, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. (Thanks to your positive comments about the Dallas Zoo, we just earned our second straight TripAdvisor 2014 Certificate of Excellence award!)

Sharing successes and knowledge with our zoo and aquarium colleagues showcases the expertise of the Dallas Zoo team, and also provides them with the opportunity to learn from others.

Categories: Conservation, Education, Elephant, Lion, Mammals, Social Media, Zookeepers | Leave a comment

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