Veterinary Care

Dallas Zoo vet’s commitment, thoroughness earn him top AZA honors

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Dr. Bonar checks the depth of anesthesia by monitoring a gorilla’s jaw tone. 

From fielding calls about a goose’s swollen eye, to observing a large mammal that’s “acting a little off,” a zoo veterinarian’s job requires nimbleness and the ability to multi-task.

A zoo and aquarium inspector, on the other hand, requires thoroughness and a methodical approach to comb through every nook and cranny of a facility striving for accreditation.

Dr. Chris Bonar does both. Really well.

Bonar’s experience and attention to detail has been recognized with the 2015 Inspector of the Year honors from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

Bonar, V.M.D., Dipl. A.C.Z.M., earned his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine after starting his career at Harvard University with plans to be a physician. His personal passion for animals steered him into his career, and across the globe studying animals like black rhinos and lungfish, and to board certification in Zoological Medicine through the American College of Zoological Medicine.

As the Dallas Zoo’s Senior Director of Animal Health, Bonar is actively involved in clinical medicine, surgery, diagnostic imaging, pathology, and nutrition. He supervises a team of veterinarians, technicians, keepers, records administration and a nutritionist at the $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility.

Outside of his day-to-day duties, Bonar travels the continent inspecting zoos and aquariums up for reaccreditation through the AZA. To be accredited, facilities must meet AZA’s standards for animal management and care, including living environments, social groupings, health and medical care, nutrition, record keeping and much more.

Each of the AZA’s 233 zoos and aquariums must be reaccredited every five years. That’s where Bonar stays busy.

“I always look forward to inspecting other zoos because the process is important,” said Bonar, who has been an inspector for nearly 20 years.

The inspection team spends several days at a facility. The inspectors observe all aspects of operation, including animal care, keeper training, guest safety, staff and animal safety, educational programs, conservation efforts, veterinary programs, financial stability, risk management, and visitor services.

Bonar appreciates the opportunity to grow himself as he helps other zoos achieve reaccreditation.

“I always learn something new and come back with new ideas,” he said.

Bonar is one of six AZA inspectors who call Dallas Zoo home, in addition to Gregg Hudson, CEO and president; Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., Vice President of Animal Operations; Jan Raines, D.V.M., Associate Veterinarian; Ruston Hartdegen, Curator of Reptiles; and Harrison Edell, Senior Director of the Living Collection.

Congratulations, Dr. Bonar! We greatly appreciate your commitment to excellence for the Dallas Zoo and zoos and aquariums nationwide.

Categories: Veterinary Care | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Girl Scout saves tortoise from water bottle

10-year-old Gracie Wakefield saves our tortoise from ingesting water bottle.

10-year-old Gracie Wakefield saves our tortoise from ingesting water bottle.

A day spent at the zoo is a privilege, time well-spent in the presence of majestic, threatened and endangered animals who deserve our respect, compassion and conservation.

The recent actions of 10-year-old Gracie Wakefield of Garland, Texas, show that she feels the same way. A normal Dallas Zoo day for the proud Girl Scout of Northeast Texas and her mom, Cindi, turned into a rescue mission when Gracie discovered a Galapagos tortoise eating a plastic water bottle.

“I first heard the plastic crunching. Then I saw half a water bottle hanging out of its mouth,” Gracie explained. “I ran down to the insect house and told them to radio for help. A reptile keeper ran over and took the bottle out.”_MG_0355

Several small pieces of plastic were removed from the tortoise’s mouth.

Reptile keeper Shana Fredlake says trash dropped by guests or blown into the Zoo gets into the wrong mouths too often. “Every day, I’m picking up plastic spoons, chip bags, water bottles, you name it,” she said.

And on a few occasions, our vets have had to remove foreign objects. “It’s terrible for their intestines because this stuff doesn’t break down,” Fredlake said.

Reptile keeper Shana Fredlake

Reptile keeper Shana Fredlake says picking up garbage from the tortoise habitat is an every day task.

Some simple advice from Gracie could help keep animals from getting hurt, both in the Zoo and outside of it: “Hold on tight to your water bottle so you don’t accidentally drop it. And don’t litter, because no one wants to see an animal hurt. I really like animals and I was so scared for that tortoise.”

We’re extremely thankful for Gracie’s quick response, and we hope all children are such good stewards of our environment and protectors of our animal kingdom.

Littering some numbers

  • Given how busy we are, anywhere from 10 to 40 park services staffers work daily to keep our 106-acre park clean.
  • 182 trash and recycle receptacles are placed throughout the zoo, ready to welcome your waste.
  • “Please don’t litter” reminders can be found throughout the park.
  • And another friendly reminder resides on your zoo map – so don’t let that become litter, either!
Categories: Conservation, Education, Guest Services, Reptiles and Amphibians, Veterinary Care | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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

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