Veterinary Care

How to train a mongoose 101

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

How in the world do you find out if a dwarf mongoose is pregnant?

You weigh her! And that’s also a great way to monitor an animal’s overall health.

But teaching these adorably sassy critters to sit on a scale isn’t for the impatient. Luckily, the Dallas Zoo has keeper Sara Bjerklie, who’s developed a special relationship with Happy, Sleepy, Sally and Jada.

Since last fall, she’s worked diligently five times a week with the small African carnivores. The key: cat food. It’s part of the mongooses’ daily diet and is a delicious, motivating snack.

“It’s been fun to see their individual personalities come out during training,” Bjerklie said. “Happy lives up to his name and loves to train, just not always on his station. I like to think he has an excess of energy and just can’t stop moving. Sleepy’s the opposite, he’s a little shy guy. But with a lot of time spent together, he’s warmed up and we’ve created a great bond.”

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Mother and daughter duo Sally and Jada are typically the dominant pair in the pack. But they seem a little wary to train, and they took longer to grasp it.

The animals first trained on blue plates placed on the ground, and Bjerklie would ask them to “station” on their individual plate. As progress was made, she moved the plates on top of a small scale. And voila, we have weights! Kudos to Sara on her skill – and her persistence.

Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Enrichment, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: | Leave a comment

A very special little vulture

_MG_1871-White-backed Vulture chick 6-9-15-CB (427x640)This little chick is a very big deal.

The video below shows the Dallas Zoo’s new white-backed vulture, the first chick hatched in a U.S. zoo in 19 years, being watched over carefully by her parents. Even more good news: tests on the chick’s feathers determined that it’s female, which is critically important.

That matters so much because there are only 13 white-backed vultures, including this one, in U.S. zoos. (Her hatching increased the number by 8%!) The small population also skews male, so a new female chick offers great potential for successful breeding.

Hatched May 25, she’s growing fast, now weighing nearly 6 pounds. When full-grown, these vultures can weigh 15 pounds, with a wingspan of up to 7 feet.

These endangered birds are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Their numbers have fallen rapidly in recent decades due to the use of carbofuran, a highly toxic pesticide, and diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used in cattle. Vultures are carrion-eaters, and they ingest the toxic drugs in animal carcasses. Populations are down 50% across their ranges, and as much as 90% in western Africa.

Dallas Zoo Bird Curator Sprina Liu and her staff are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for these birds, and will work with the SSP coordinator to determine where the chick will reside after she’s grown.

The chick, while much smaller than her parents, is visible from the viewing area closest to Camp Okapi, on the Gorilla Trail. Congratulations to our bird team for this remarkable achievement!

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Zoo mourns loss of Mama, elderly elephant matriarch

The Dallas Zoo is heartbroken to announce the death of African elephant “Mama” due to age-related health conditions.

Elephants "Mama" was the matriarch of the all female "Golden Girls" herd. She will forever be missed.

Elephant “Mama” was the matriarch of the all female “Golden Girls” herd. She will forever be missed.

At 45, Mama was the oldest of our five-member geriatric female herd. She lived more than seven years past the 38-year median life expectancy for a female African elephant in human care, and was one of the 10 oldest elephants in the United States. She had been undergoing dedicated geriatric health care for many months, including massage, baths, blood tests, medication and heat-lamp treatments. In recent weeks, Mama’s health had declined, and her care evolved to hospice-style efforts designed to keep her comfortable.

“Mama’s longevity and excellent quality of life are a testament to the loving care and expertise of our elephant keepers and veterinary team,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO.

Mama shines in the golden sun on an autumn day in 2013.

Mama shines in the golden sun on an autumn day in 2013.

“This is a difficult day for our staff and the community. We take our responsibility to care for these magnificent animals very seriously,” said Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., the zoo’s vice president of Animal Operations. “We’re heartened that her final years were spent in a social herd in which we saw positive, normal elephant behavior.”

Mama, whose estimated birthdate was January 1970, was often called an “old soul.” This curious mother and grandmother was known for her sweet tooth, favoring sugar cane, and tidy eating habits (she would rake her food into a neat pile and daintily scoop it up). From the time Mama arrived at the Zoo in 2010, zookeepers noticed she was very curious and could be the instigator of mischief. She loved being groomed, especially “pedicures,” getting attention from guests and her keepers, and being vocal with her herd.  She was the matriarch of our “Golden Girls” and received much special care because of her advanced age and conditions resulting from injuries she sustained long before she came to the Dallas Zoo.

Pictured from left to right: Kamba, Congo, Jenny, Mama and Gypsy greet one another on the Savanna in Dec. 2014.

Pictured from left to right: Kamba, Congo, Jenny, Mama and Gypsy greet one another on the Savanna in December 2014.

After Mama died, the other elephants in the herd, Gypsy, Jenny, Congo and Kamba, were given time to say goodbye, during which they gently touched her face with their trunks and trumpeted softly.

The elephant herd’s home, the Giants of the Savanna, was specifically designed for the care of older elephants, as well as younger ones. The habitat can be changed to address the needs of individual animals, such as adding logs and piles of sand for leaning and resting for older animals. The habitat also was designed, with help from elephant expert Dr. Charles Foley, to include migration pathways that allow the herd to walk more than 10 miles per day.

Mama (left) dusts her back with dirt with Kamba nearby in Dec. 2014.

Mama browses for food nearby while Kamba dusts her back with dirt in December 2014.

It’s a very difficult time for our staff, so please keep us in your thoughts. Our keepers, committed to conservation efforts, ask that anyone wishing to honor Mama donate to Dr. Foley’s Tarangire Elephant Project, one of our partners helping elephants in Africa. Information can be found at www.wcstanzania.org/tarangire.htm. Donations may be mailed to Mama Elephant Memorial, c/o Dallas Zoo, 650 S. R.L. Thornton Freeway, Dallas, TX 75203.

Please watch this tribute video we made in honor of Mama.

Categories: Africa, Elephant, Mammals, Veterinary Care | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Dallas Zoo’s FIRST EVER baby penguin melts hearts

Penguin chick is held by a keeper during a well-baby checkup.

The penguin chick is held by a keeper during a well-baby checkup.

The cat’s out of the bag. Or more like, the penguin is out of the egg! We’ve kept this chick’s arrival quiet for 20 days — and now we’re ready to scream it from the mountaintops. This little one is the FIRST EVER penguin chick to hatch at the Dallas Zoo, making it the tenth member of the flock. Hatched April 15, the African black-footed penguin also is the first chick for proud parents Tazo and Tulip.

“This is a huge deal for our bird team and we couldn’t be more excited,” said Bird Curator Sprina Liu. “We were overjoyed when we walked in that morning and found the chick with its parents.”

The baby penguin begins to hatch April 15, 2015.

The baby penguin pokes its beak out as it begins to hatch April 15, 2015.

The baby is being cared for off-habitat by mom and dad at the Don Glendenning Penguin Cove. For about a month, Tazo and Tulip shared around-the-clock incubating duties until it hatched. Weighing a little more than a C battery at hatch, the chick has grown to about 2.5 pounds.

This hatch was an African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to help ensure the survival of this endangered species. Found in South Africa, these birds have suffered a 90 percent decline in population since the early 1900s. Today, fewer than 50,000 African penguins remain in the wild.

“We’ve dedicated years of work to help save African penguins in the wild, and now we’re helping expand their populations in human care,” Liu said. “We’re very proud to be able to add this little one to the North American population.”

Penguin chick eyes DM

The little one sleeps in the hands of a keeper during its well-baby checkup.

But don’t expect to see the baby just yet — with no feathers, it won’t start swimming lessons for a few months. Until then, the chick will remain off habitat, staying close to mom and dad. For now, the parents are doing exactly what they’re supposed to — taking turns keeping the chick warm by spreading their feathers out, allowing it to snuggle up next to them (a term called brooding).

Warning: It’s likely you’ll see our bird keepers walking around with permanent smiles on their faces.

 

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Penguins, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Dallas Zoo opens voting for viral star giraffe calf’s name

Katy's giraffe baby The millions of people worldwide who’ve fallen in love with our new viral star giraffe calf at the Dallas Zoo can now vote on the new baby’s name: Adia, Kanzi, or Kipenzi.

Voting is free, but fans also have the chance to help rescue and support threatened wildlife in Africa, including giraffes. A generous friend of the Dallas Zoo has agreed to match any donations made in the baby’s honor, up to $25,000. All donations will go to conservation efforts around the world.

CLICK HERE to vote now. Voting closes at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, and the name will be announced the next day. Katie and her calf continue to be streamed live online at Animal Planet L!VE at apl.tv.

“We’ve heard from many people around the world that say Katie and her baby are now a part of their family after witnessing this remarkable live birth on Animal Planet,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “We want those people to feel included in the calf’s name. We can’t wait to see which one is chosen.”

The zoo also has been overwhelmed with heartfelt requests to name the calf after loved ones: children lost to cancer, missing family members, relatives with autism who were touched deeply by the live birth, first responders who gave their lives in service of others, former zoo staffers, and more. However, given the number of requests, it simply wasn’t possible to recognize just one special person.

Instead, Katie’s keepers chose the three Swahili names, all with meanings that honor the spirit of those requests:

–          Adia – “a gift” (pronounced uh-DEE-uh)

–          Kanzi – “a treasure” (KAHN-zee)

–          Kipenzi – “loved one” (kih-PEHN-zee)

Baby Giraffe goes outside for first time “We have been profoundly touched by your stories, and we feel your grief and your pride,” Hudson said. “We have read every post, tweet and email, often with tears in our eyes. We hope those who have reached out will find comfort in knowing that the Dallas Zoo will always think of their loved ones as we care for this calf in the coming years.”

The Dallas Zoo has a recent policy of naming animals after their native home — for example, 5-month-old giraffe Kopano’s name means “united” — to further conservation messages about the plight of animals in the wild.

Mom Katie delivered the calf, weighing 139 pounds and standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall, live on Animal Planet television and Animal Planet L!VE streaming. Viewers cheered Katie on as she pushed for nearly an hour to deliver the calf, and over the next hours as the wobbly little one tried to stand, took her first steps and began nursing.

Every dime raised from donations linked to the vote will go to conservation efforts. Although the Dallas Zoo is a non-profit zoological park itself, we will use 100% of the donations for conservation efforts around the globe. The zoo partners with many organizations to save animals from extinction, including the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the Tarangire Elephant Project, and more.

Categories: Africa, Giraffe, Mammals, Media, Social Media, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 35 Comments

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