Volunteers

Save the vaquita: Near extinct porpoise needs help fast

Dallas Zoo’s conservation intern Heaven Tharp guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

The vaquita porpoise is the world’s most endangered marine mammal — there’s fewer than 30 left. But I bet you didn’t know that.

The Dallas Zoo, along with AZA SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction), is supporting a heroic $1 million emergency rescue plan to save the vaquita. This weekend, July 14-16, we’re raising awareness and money with a Save the Vaquita Weekend Beach Party.

The vaquita is the ocean’s smallest cetacean, only reaching up to 5 feet in length and weighing about 120 pounds. That’s about as big as an average 13-year-old boy. They’re best known for the unique black ring around each eye, and black curved lips that are often described as a smile. Vaquitas have the most restricted range of any marine mammal — they’re only found in the northern Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez.

Photo of a vaquita caught in a gillnet by NOAA Fisheries West Coast

This small porpoise wasn’t discovered until 1958, and sadly, a half century later, it’s on the verge of extinction. Vaquitas are continuously caught in the cross fires of fishermen fishing for totoaba; it’s a critically endangered fish that’s in high demand across China because their swim bladder is considered a delicacy. For vaquitas, the biggest problem is the fishing gear itself. Gillnets cause accidental trapping, and it’s leading to their demise. Just last month, Mexico placed a permanent ban on the use of gillnets in the northern Gulf of California. Unfortunately, illegal fishing with these nets is still a huge problem.

This weekend, we invite you to join us in taking immediate action to save the remaining 30 vaquitas. Spearheaded by a committee of interns and volunteers passionate about this species, Dallas Zoo’s Save the Vaquita Beach Party kicks off Friday, July 14, on Cat Green. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day (with extended hours until 8 p.m. during Saturday’s final Safari Nights concert) we’ll have children’s beach games, a bounce house, and face-painting on Cat Green in ZooNorth. The party and games are free with Zoo admission (bounce house and face painting are $5 each). And donations to Vaquita SAFE are appreciated!

Also, visit the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo Discovery House and write a note of encouragement to the vaquita conservation heroes on the front lines. We’ll be sure to mail it to them!

You can also purchase a specially designed “Save the Vaquita” t-shirt ($15), stickers ($2), or a limited-edition wristband ($5). A $20 donation gets you all three! There will also be unique handmade vaquita-themed merchandise for sale, and we’ll all have a lot of beach party fun.

You can also help the vaquita by:

  • Choosing to buy sustainable seafood.
  • Spreading the word: tell five people about why the vaquita needs our help!
  • Donating to the Dallas Zoo’s “Save the Vaquita” effort. We’ll send all money raised directly to Vaquita SAFE to save this marine mammal from extinction.

We look forward to seeing you — let’s party #4aPorpoise!

Categories: Conservation, Education, Events, Volunteers | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Snoozing in the sand: Studying elephant sleep habits

 

Coordinator of Animal Behavior Science Nancy Scott guest-blogs on ZooHoo! about a study conducted on our elephants’ sleep habits and behaviors.

Sometimes we can’t sleep the night before Christmas or before a big test. Whether it’s something exciting or scary, big events can affect how well we sleep at night.

The same goes for animals, too. When the Dallas Zoo rescued elephants from Swaziland last spring, we really wanted to confirm they felt comfortable enough in their new environment to sleep well at night.

Our first step was to see how many hours our longtime residents, the “Golden Girls,” were sleeping at night, so we could compare the groups. The thing is, I like to sleep as much as the next person, so how were we going to keep track of elephants sleeping while we were sleeping, too?

Technology to the rescue! We used video cameras in the elephant barns to record what the elephants did at night, and then reviewed the footage the next day… while we were awake.

Although elephants can doze standing up – sometimes even while leaning against a rock or using their trunk as a fifth limb for balance – they’re most relaxed when lying on their sides.

“The most surprising thing to me was that elephants lay down to sleep,” said research volunteer Becca Dyer. “I thought that, because of predators, they slept standing.”

For this study, we wanted to know how much time the elephants were lying down and getting the very best sleep.

Our observations of the Golden Girls told us Jenny likes to go to bed around 10-11 p.m., while the other three females are usually asleep by midnight. And just like you may have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or raid the fridge, the elephants don’t sleep through the night, either. They usually get up three or four times a night, sometimes changing sides, or location.

“When Gypsy finally goes to sleep, Jenny will bug her until she wakes up … and then lay down in her spot! Gypsy doesn’t seem to mind. What a friendship!” research volunteer Jill Donaldson said.

While volunteering as a Base Camp ambassador, Jill has seen the elephants using sand to dust themselves in the Savanna – especially after a good mud wallow – but she didn’t realize they also use the sand piles as a pillow. The keepers often see imprints of the elephants’ skin in the sand piles in the mornings.

Our elephants tend to sleep on their sides, much like humans do

The elephants rescued from drought-stricken Swaziland seemed very comfortable their very first night in their new home at the Dallas Zoo, according to our observations from just about a year ago. There was plenty of sand for pillows, and they certainly took advantage of it. Feeling relaxed in their new home, the rescued adults slept just as long as our resident Golden Girls – about 3-4 hours per night.

We quickly learned their personalities from the overnight video. Our bull, Tendaji, likes to sprawl out with his legs in front of him and will sometimes be on his side with his eyes still open, trying to eat hay while he’s lying down.

Nolwazi tends to go face-first into the sand when she beds down. Research volunteer Julie Evans (who can also be found in the Gorilla Research Station or Base Camp when she’s not observing sleeping elephants) remembers a favorite moment when “Nolwazi raised her head to check that her daughter, Amahle, was sleeping peacefully, then Nolwazi put her head back down.” A typical youngster, Amahle sleeps longer than the adults, resting around 4-5 hours each night.

Donaldson wasn’t sure if watching sleeping elephants would be interesting when she first signed up to help, “… but no way am I bored. They are all fascinating!” she said.

After calf Ajabu was born last May, we learned a lot about baby elephant sleep patterns, too. He loves to climb all over his mom just as she’s trying to get some much-needed shuteye for herself (sound familiar, parents?).

“If all else fails, he’ll curl up under her chin and sleep a little longer,” said research volunteer and Base Camp ambassador Barbara van Pelt.

Ajabu takes more than a dozen naps each night (for a total of 6-7 hours of rest) when he’s not pestering his mom, playing with Amahle, or practicing his balance skills on a log. While Jill and Barbara are impressed by his perseverance, Rhonda loves watching him for his tightrope skills. You may have seen him practicing in the habitat by climbing rocks.

Our volunteers contributed an average of 20 hours a week over the past 14 months on this important project.

“It’s a great group of people who volunteer for the study, and we enjoy sharing our thoughts about what we see,” said Barbara. When asked why she likes to help with this study, Julie said, “Why? Because research is my passion!”

I couldn’t agree more.

Interested in volunteering opportunities? Contact Volunteers@DallasZoo.com

Categories: Africa, Elephant, Volunteers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Fidelity Cares for the Dallas Zoo by the numbers

Fidelity volunteers from the Westlake campus make magnets

Fidelity volunteers make magnets at their Westlake campus

Most people probably don’t wake up in the morning and drive to work with the intention of cleaning up an

Volunteers gather mulch for the elephant exhibit

Volunteers gather mulch for the elephant exhibit

elephant walkway or making a bridge for barnyard animals, but for nearly 700 employees at the Fidelity campus in Westlake, that’s exactly what how they spent their workday.

It’s Fidelity Cares Day, an annual day of volunteering and giving back to local communities for Fidelity Investments employees around the world. And today we sent eight Dallas Zoo staff members to the campus to lead a series of unique projects that will benefit our animals, conservation partners, and the Dallas community. Plus, about 100 Fidelity volunteers spent the day at the Zoo, working with zookeepers on various projects from landscaping to habitat clean-up.

“This amazing day of service is a great way for volunteers to further the Dallas Zoo’s goals, impact, and mission of engaging people and saving wildlife,” said Nicole Sweeney, Dallas Zoo’s Corporate Giving Manager.

Painted canvases for the 96 elephant mosaic

Painted canvases for the 96 elephant mosaic

Our volunteers kicked off Fidelity Cares Day by making magnets – but these magnets aren’t your average fridge trinket. Each one is made of a piece of canvas painted by an animal at the Dallas Zoo. Fidelity volunteers adhered magnetic strips and labels to the back of approximately 970 of these artistic creations. These masterpieces will be sold at Bishop Arts Districts’ The Local Oak restaurant this Friday-Sunday (May 4-6), and will benefit the Dallas Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK).

Fidelity staff also contributed to Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants campaign, which raises awareness about elephant poaching. Fittingly, 96 volunteers painted a canvas to remind Zoo visitors that every day in Africa, 96 elephants are killed for their ivory. The hanging mosaic will be placed in the Simmon’s Base Camp as a symbol of our dedication to elephant conservation.

Keeper Jenn Lim led the goat bridge construction project

Keeper Jenn Lim led the goat bridge project

The next project required a little more elbow grease. Roughly 25 volunteers spent four hours assembling a goat bridge – yep, a bridge for our goats. They sanded, screwed, hammered, and applied stain to a large wood play structure for our goat yard. The structure consists of two sets of stairs and one bridge, which will be used by kids of both the human and goat variety for parallel play in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo. Research shows that parallel play helps many children develop empathy. As children use the bridge alongside animal friends, our hope is that it will strengthen their connection to wildlife.

Throughout the day, multiple seed ball making stations were set up at the Westlake campus for volunteers to walk up and form using a mix of native seeds, compost, and clay. The seed balls will be used to restore prairie habitat at local schools. Once placed in these locations, the seeds will germinate and help reestablish native plants species for local wildlife. Fidelity volunteers created 13,200 seed balls today – whew!

Debarking logs for chimps

Debarking logs for the chimp habitat

We would like to sincerely thank all of the generous Fidelity volunteers who paid it forward with sweat equity and hard work in order to make the Zoo, and our community, a better place. Looking at the numbers alone, it’s amazing what a single group of people accomplished in just one day.

Categories: Enrichment, Volunteers | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Wild Earth Action Team leads whooping success in Corpus Christi

The Wild Earth Action Team birding in Blucher Park

The Wild Earth Action Team birding in Blucher Park.

The Dallas Zoo works with partners around the world to save wildlife and protect wild spaces, but a major effort recently happened closer to home with some important Texas neighbors.

The team observes the endangered whooping crane in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

The team observes the endangered whooping crane in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The zoo’s Wild Earth Action Team trekked south to Corpus Christi to restore coastal habitats in support of whooping crane conservation.

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and migrates each year from central Canada to the Texas coast for the winter. The Dallas Zoo group dug in and got their hands dirty during a clean-up to help wildlife and their vital ecosystems.

The Wild Earth Action Team also took a four-hour adventure through the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, exploring the whooping crane’s winter grounds and observing 14 of these elegant birds. They even witnessed a rare moment when a whooping crane pair caught a snake and fed it to their young.

“It was thrilling to see whooping cranes up close,” said volunteer Becca Dyer. “I learned so much from the naturalists on the trip. I felt I was taking positive action participating in the beach cleanup.”

Removing litter from Corpus Christi's North Beach

Removing litter from Corpus Christi’s North Beach.

The entire experience was incredible for the team since this species once was so close to the brink of extinction. Our team of 23 volunteers and staff removed nearly 200 pounds of micro-litter along North Beach, including roughly 1,000 cigarette butts. Litter removal plays a key role in improving water quality and restoring coastal wetlands where many of the whooping crane’s food sources reside.

By the mid-1940s, only 15 whooping cranes existed in the wild. While still categorized as an endangered species, roughly 600 birds exist today due to the continued advocacy of conservation heroes across the United States.

“It made me feel overwhelmed with inspiration and gratitude for the conservation champions who went before us and stood up to save these cranes – all the work, the study, the policy advocacy, the habitat restoration and protection, the propagation and reintroduction by zoos and other conservation organizations – everything it takes to save animals from extinction,” said Ben Jones, dean of the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy and trip co-leader.

Volunteers enjoy a visit to Dyers Aquarium

Volunteers Elizabeth Clay and Paul and Becca Dyer enjoy a visit to the Texas State Aquarium.

The weekend was filled with engaging learning opportunities as well. Alex Gilly, a bird keeper at the zoo, provided a fantastic presentation on the world’s 15 crane species as well as our role in crane conservation. The team was given a behind-the-scenes look at the Texas State Aquarium rehabilitation facilities, where they met an array of aquatic life and learned their unique stories. Dr. Liz Smith, the International Crane Foundation’s whooping crane biologist and Texas program director, even spoke to the group, providing an update on whooping crane preservation and efforts to combat the effects of climate change on coastal   wetlands.

All and all, the weekend stands as a whooping success for our Wild Earth Action Team as they extended the Zoo’s vision of creating a better world for animals. Still, it’s important to remember that conservation is a joint endeavor that requires dedication to produce results. It all starts with taking actions, no matter how small, and making sustainable changes.

The Wild Earth Action Team gathers for a group shot

The Wild Earth Action Team gathers for a group shot.

“Much of our conservation field efforts are done by volunteers who are a part of our Wild Earth Action Team,” said Julie Bates, director of Volunteers and trip co-leader. “This is a movement of volunteers that have a passion for nature and wildlife. The time and energy this team gives is priceless. Locally and across the state, we are creating a better world for animals by planting trees, restoring wildlife habitat, and cleaning beaches. We would love to have you join us on our next adventure!”

Stay tuned for more information about our next Wild Earth Action Team expedition when we travel to South Padre Island June 23–25 and work on Saving Sea Turtles.

 

Categories: Birds, Conservation, Education, Volunteers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob Butsch: Our longest Keeper’s Aide volunteer

“Our volunteers are simply amazing! They bring a wealth of knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm that is unmatched. We could not accomplish what we do here without them. Together, we are building a better world for animals.”

~ Julie Bates, director of Dallas Zoo’s Volunteer Services

Long before the Dallas Zoo had an organized volunteer program,_mg_5396-bob-butsch-4x6-cb Bob Butsch spent his Saturdays helping take care of various animals in the Herpetarium where our reptiles reside. For free!

As of today, he’s our longest serving Keeper’s Aide volunteer, having volunteered almost every Saturday for nearly 30 years. (Yes, three decades.) If you do the math, half a day for 50 Saturdays out of the year for 29.5 years totals 5,900 hours! That’s 245 days. Can you imagine having that under your “Volunteer” tab on your resume? Wow.

Additionally, he’s been in the Herpetarium longer than anyone, including keepers and curators. Bob began as a volunteer at the Zoo on Memorial Day weekend in 1987. On a trip to the Zoo with his wife and then 2-year-old son, he wondered about putting his master’s degree in biology to work. He called the Zoo’s Education Department, who told him they had no openings for volunteer docents (who answer guests’ questions). They directed him to the reptile department, who took him in.

He’s had a weekday job for even longer, where he does IT programming for a medical company. But he graduated with his bachelor’s in Biology and Chemistry at the University of Texas-Arlington, then went on to complete his master’s in Biology at the University of North Texas. Volunteering at the Zoo, for him, is a way to exercise his knowledge in a meaningful way.

In 1987, he started out answering guests’ questions as a docent. After his first few months, a reptile keeper took him behind the scenes to give him an impromptu “evaluation.” This simply involved seeing how well he could handle the animals. After he handled a snake with no fear, he became a Keeper’s Aide Volunteer.

In July 1991, Bob Butsch was recognized at Dallas Zoo's volunteer of the month.

In July 1991, Bob Butsch was recognized at Dallas Zoo’s volunteer of the month.

Ever since, he’s worked with various animals in the Herpetarium, including amphibians and reptiles of all kinds. He’s done every job available to volunteers for this department. While he has helped in several different ways, he still must follow the rules specific to volunteers, despite his long career of volunteering.

“As a volunteer, I’m only allowed to do certain jobs,” he said. “In the reptile department, it is very important to follow the rules, because of the dangers that are present with venomous creatures.”

Yet he’s been around on Saturdays for so long that nobody has to watch over his shoulder as he goes about his work. “It’s really flattering when I come in,” he said. “They hardly bat an eye.” That’s the ultimate sign of trust that he’ll do the job right.

He’s seen many changes at the Zoo over the years, like the fact that the Herpetarium used to be an aviary, with birds and reptiles coexisting in the same building. He’s also lived through the replacement of the entire AC unit, taking care of animals out in the lobby so they were out of the way for the workers. And construction, lots of construction, as the Zoo remodeled and improved exhibits.

So why has he continued to volunteer 50 Saturdays out of the year for 29 years? The answer is simple: “The work I do is therapeutic for me, and it’s wonderful to come work in an environment full of happy friendly people who really love what they do.”

As for us at the Zoo, we love having such a dedicated and happy volunteer helping us build a better world for animals.

For information on how you can volunteer at the Zoo, check out our Volunteer page.

Categories: Reptiles and Amphibians, Volunteers | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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