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African elephants Nolwazi & Amahle settling into new home at Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Mother/daughter pair Nolwazi and Amahle moved to their new home at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California this week.

A small task force from our animal care team has been hard at work for months preparing to relocate elephants from our herd to a new home. Those months of thoughtful preparation, diligent training, and a 32-hour trip are now over, and we’re happy to report that Nolwazi and Amahle have safely arrived at Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California.

The pair are getting acclimated to the zoo’s expansive, naturalistic mixed-species African Adventure habitat after arriving in Fresno on Tuesday evening, October 16.

The unique situation in Fresno presented an exciting opportunity to move Nolwazi (approx. 24 years old) and her daughter Amahle (approx. 9 years old) to an AZA-accredited zoo that shares our same philosophy of animal welfare and approach to animal care. The Fresno elephant team cares for one bull and one young female, and we hope the move will allow Nolwazi to assume a matriarchal position, leading a herd of her own – a role for which we believe she is well-suited. This also gives Amahle a similar-aged female with whom to socialize and play.

“We have been looking to grow our African elephant herd,” said Amos Morris, Deputy Director/Chief Operating Officer at Fresno Chaffee Zoo. “Having Nolwazi and Amahle join us accomplishes that, and will hopefully create a successful family group that may lead to breeding in the future.”

Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s herd now consists of four elephants, and Dallas Zoo remains home to an eight-elephant herd, including our four “Golden Girls,” and four elephants that were a part of the Swaziland rescue in 2016.

Planning for a massive move

Animal moves are complex, meticulously planned endeavors – particularly when they involve animals as intelligent and social as elephants. This move has been months in the making, and our team has worked closely with staff from Fresno to ensure a successful move and safe introduction to the new home for the elephant pair. Members of Fresno’s elephant team have visited Dallas multiple times over the last few months to work with our staff and to familiarize themselves with Nolwazi and Amahle’s routines and personalities.

During their visits, Fresno’s team observed both elephants were curious about them but did not appear nervous, and the team was able to start working with and have positive experiences with both Nolwazi and Amahle almost immediately. They also noted how critical it was to begin forming relationships with both elephants ahead of the move, which should help ease the transition now that they have arrived at their new home in California.

Dallas Zoo’s elephant team created and followed a comprehensive training plan in the months leading up to the move to ensure Nolwazi and Amahle would be as comfortable as possible with the transport crates that would house them during their trip to Fresno. Both crates were equipped with video cameras so the travel team could monitor the pair throughout the journey.

Four Dallas Zoo team members, along with a curator from Fresno Chaffee Zoo, two veterinarians, and two expert consultants, traveled with Nolwazi and Amahle during the drive from Dallas to Fresno, providing updates every few hours on progress and ensuring the animals’ comfort throughout the trip. By all reports, the trip went off without a hitch.

Dallas Zoo staff members will remain in Fresno for several days to work with the team and the elephants to help ensure a successful transition to their new home, where we are excited to see them continue to thrive!

A quick history lesson

Nolwazi and Amahle came to Dallas in March 2016, along with bull Tendaji, and females Mlilo and Zola, as part of a multi-zoo rescue project to save elephants from being culled (killed) in drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa. When these elephants arrived, they were underweight and in need of TLC, so our dedicated animal team immediately began administering round-the-clock care. Becoming comfortable with their new home and feasting on a well-maintained diet, the entire Swazi herd soon began to gain weight and bond with keepers.

Just two months later, our Swazi herd of five grew to six with the unexpected arrival of adorable baby Ajabu to mom Mlilo. Over the course of almost a year, Dallas Zoo’s elephant team carefully orchestrated introductions of the Swazi elephants to our “Golden Girls” – Jenny, Gypsy, Congo, and Kamba.

We’ve loved watching Nolwazi and Amahle’s personalities develop and grow over these last two years within our dynamic herd. While we’re sad that Nolwazi and Amahle have left our herd, we know the opportunity for them to be a part of a growing family herd at Fresno Chaffee Zoo will allow them to flourish. That’s what we want for every animal in our care – and that’s why we do what we do every day.

We know you’ll join us as we wish Nolwazi and Amahle well in their new home in Fresno!

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Dallas Zoo continues to score conservation victories in the Herpetarium

The Herpetarium is buzzing with the news of several recent hatchings! You may have seen a few of these cold-blooded babies in the nursery, but our reptile team also cares for dozens of other animals behind the scenes.

Anytime we pair animals together to encourage breeding, it’s all done based on recommendations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). This means the animals are facing serious threats in the wild – so we hope to breed them to help support population numbers and promote genetic diversity.

“Our reptile team is very excited to be working with these highly threatened animals,” said Ruston Hartdegen, Dallas Zoo’s Curator of Herpetology & Aquatics. “We are proud of the fact that we’re making a significant contribution to the survival of these species.”

Check out all of our recent hatchlings! Which do you hope to see on your next visit?

Leaf-tailed geckos
We care for three different species of leaf-tailed geckos: satanic leaf-tailed geckos, giant leaf-tailed geckos, and mossy leaf-tailed geckos. These unique lizards are found only in Madagascar and face a constant threat of extinction due to habitat destruction. We’re one of the only AZA-accredited zoos to have such success in breeding these lizards.

Burmese brown tortoise hatchlings

Burmese brown tortoise
Sadly, pressures like the illegal pet trade and loss of habitat threaten most reptile species in Southeast Asia. The Burmese brown tortoise is the largest tortoise in mainland Asia – they can grow up to 100 pounds in human care. We welcomed our first hatchlings last year, so we’re thrilled with this continued success!

Forsten’s tortoise hatchling

Forsten’s tortoise
Found only on the single island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, the Forsten’s tortoise is commonly hunted both for the meat and pet trade industries, which has left this species in desperate need of help. We’re one of only a handful of AZA-accredited institutions to hatch this species.

Grand Cayman rock iguana hatchling

Grand Cayman rock iguanas
Also called “blue iguanas” because they can turn blue while basking in the sun, Grand Cayman rock iguanas are the most endangered species of iguana in the world. In 2003, a survey indicated there were just 5-15 individual iguanas left in the wild. Populations have since increased due to an aggressive recovery program, and there are now approximately 750 in the wild. So we are proud to have added five to the overall population.

Green tree skink hatchling

Green tree skinks
Although this species is not considered threatened in the wild, much of their natural habitat has been lost to deforestation. We’ve had a lot of success with breeding green tree skinks, which is great for promoting the genetic diversity in populations under human care.

Samar cobra hatchling

Samar “spitting” cobras
We are the only AZA-accredited U.S. facility to handle and reproduce Samar cobras. Although they’re not able to spit their highly potent venom immediately after birth, they do hatch with miniature “hoods” at the ready. Click HERE to watch one of our clutches from 2015 hatch in real time!

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World Gorilla Day: Celebrating gorillas by celebrating our littlest one

Baby Saambili’s has grown so much since her birth on June 25, 2018!

World Gorilla Day marks the 16th anniversary of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International’s Karisoke Research Center, which is the longest running field site dedicated to gorilla research and conservation.

In honor of this special day, we sat down with Assistant Great Ape Supervisor Tamara Jochem to talk about how much baby Saambili has grown since her birth on June 25, 2018.

Today is not only about celebrating these magnificent animals – we are also reminded of the very serious threats they face in the wild. YOU can make a difference! Read on to get the inside scoop on all things Saambili and learn a few simple actions you can take to help support gorillas conservation efforts everyday.

How much has Saambili grown and changed physically since she was born?
We don’t know exact numbers because she’s with mom 24/7. But she has a lot of extra skin that she’s ready to grow into. She also has a little belly and lots of muscles in her arms and legs. She’s a stout little thing! And her teeth started coming in about a month ago. We think she’s got about six teeth on the bottom and four on the top, so far.

Will she go through teething, like a human baby?
Yep, she will. She’s handling that pretty well, based on our observations. She will chew on her fingers, or anything she can fit in her mouth – lettuce, kale, broccoli – and she might get a bit fussy from time to time.

Hope supports Saambili’s bottom while walking on her knuckles.

Tell us about the relationship between Hope and Saambili.
Gorilla babies are born already able to cling, so she’s been able to hold onto Hope’s hair since the beginning. Hope is a very attentive mother, so most of the time she is either supporting or holding on to her baby. She has started to put Saambili’s bottom in her hand, and Hope will walk around on her knuckles. Within the next month or two, we will probably start seeing Saambili start to ride on Mom’s back. Saambili needs a little more strength and coordination for that because the hair on Hope’s back isn’t as long. And eventually Saambili will start to crawl and move around on her own independently.

When do we think she might start walking?
Right now, she can definitely stand up on her own if she’s holding on to something, so she has the strength in her arms and legs. She wants to crawl, we can tell. But mom is being very cautious and protective. At this point, it’s kind of up to Hope.

What kind of interaction has she had with the other members of her family troop at this point?
When she was first born, Subira (her dad) immediately came over and inspected her. He put his lips on her very gently, and touched her gently. Periodically, he will come over and look at her. As she gets older and becomes more mobile, that’s when she’ll really start interacting with some of the other members. They may “babysit” or play with her. She may jump around on them, essentially using them as a playground. We’re obviously not to that point yet because she’s still so young.

Megan gently inspects baby Saambili.

But the other two females has shown a lot of interest in her. Megan has shown the most interest – she’s the youngest in the group, and she’s grown up in family troops her whole life. For the first few weeks of Saambili’s life, Megan was constantly following Hope around because she wanted to look at the baby. And she would hold Saambili’s hand – she’s been very gentle.

Hope doesn’t mind this?
No, Hope deals with Megan really well. If Megan gets too rough or if the baby needs to sleep, Hope will just move Megan’s hand away or turn her body so Megan can’t see Saambili. Megan is very persistent, so Hope spends a lot of time dealing with that. Luckily, Hope is a very socially-savvy female, so she knows how to handle all of this. Sometimes you’ll see Hope holding Megan’s hand. That’s not necessarily because they’re friends, she’s just saying “stop touching the baby.” What we’re seeing from Megan is a very normal level of interest from a young female, though.

And Shanta is very interested in the baby, too – she’s even cleaned her a few times. With Shanta being the lower-ranking animal in the troop, she isn’t able to spend as much time with the baby – although we think she would like to.

With Subira, it’s really up to him on what role he’ll play. Silverbacks are the protectors of the family, but every silverback is different. A lot times they’re just sort of a jungle-gym. So if they’re napping, the baby might jump onto them from things, hit them, run around, or pull their hair. We suspect Subira will be really tolerant of all those things, which will be oh-so-cute to watch.

What is the biggest threat that Saambili’s wild counterparts face?
Habitat loss and being hunted for bushmeat. Mining and other agricultural and farming activities are taking away food sources and habitat for gorillas in the wild. And then there’s poaching, where snares are often used. Even if they don’t get caught in a snare, gorillas can lose an arm or die from infected wounds. There are actually some troops in the wild that have learned to recognize snares and undo them, which is great.

Baby Saambili is very curious and ready to explore!

How can the general public help protect gorillas?
Be conscious when you’re buying wood or paper products. Make sure you’re buying rain forest-friendly and sustainable products that are made from recycled materials so you’re not contributing to deforestation.

You can also bring your old cell phones, tablets, MP3 players, etc. to the Dallas Zoo, and we’ll recycle them responsibly!

These electronics require the mineral coltan, which is mined in Africa – the natural habitat of critically endangered gorillas and other species. Deforestation and mining associated with coltan production have impacted and displaced gorillas, forcing them dangerously close to extinction. Recycling these devices and extending the life of electronic devices (do you really need a new mobile phone as soon as your contract is up?) reduces the demand for coltan mining. For more information on this initiative and how you can help, click HERE.

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Dallas Zoo animal staff remain committed to our animals throughout their golden years

We love all of our animals at the Dallas Zoo, but our geriatric animals are some of the most special. When some of our animals reach retirement age and are no longer comfortable shifting in and out of their habitats, we move them to an area behind the scenes designed for their comfort, where dedicated keepers care for their every need.

Dara, the yellow-backed duiker

For Dara, the yellow-backed duiker, that time came about six years ago. Dara was one of our oldest and most beloved residents, and sadly, she passed away recently from age-related health issues. At age 26, she lived to be the oldest duiker in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and she had a wonderful and gentle personality.

Duikers are a type of African antelope. Their name means “diver” in Afrikaans, because they dive into vegetation and brush when spooked. Native to Central and Western Africa, adult duikers have a bold yellow stripe down their back, which becomes more visible when they’re on alert and their hair stands up.

Duikers are very intelligent – their brains are proportionally larger than other hoofstock, such as some antelope and gazelles. Most are hesitant of new things before they learn more about them, but Dara was very curious and loved to explore her surroundings. She absolutely loved pumpkins! She would roll them up and down the length of her habitat before finally eating them.

Although it was tough to say goodbye, we are proud to have provided Dara with the best possible care during her golden years. Her keepers made sure she had mats covering the floor of her stall so that she had better traction and a softer surface for her joints. Her keepers also performed routine hoof care, gave her hoof and joint supplements, and of course, lots of love and attention. Zoo staff say that it was such a privilege to care for Dara. She will be missed!

Honeydew, the tapir, enjoyed a special “cake” for her 35th birthday (January 2016)

Our other senior resident is 37-year-old Honeydew, a South American tapir. She is currently living out her “retirement” away from public view, where she is pampered with brushes, baths, special foot care, and leisurely swims in her personal pool. Honeydew’s sweet demeanor makes her a joy to care for and a keeper-favorite!

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Students take talent to top photographer camp

The Zoo’s a great place for budding photographers (and experienced ones, too). Our Top Photographer summer camp gives children an opportunity to test out their wildlife photography skills in our 106-acre zoological park. Last month, a group of lucky student campers were trained by our expert staff photographer and given an up-close experience with animals. After two weeks of trekking through the Zoo and patiently waiting for just the right shot, here are some of our winning photos:

IMG_6022-Morgan
Top Photographer: Morgan
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